“What day is it today?” asked Pooh
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet
“My favourite day” said Pooh
– AA Milne
Holidays tend to mostly be in the moment, very little should’s. At least I hope that’s how it is for you.
The scientific community has accumulated much evidence to show us that taking a break from work has many health benefits, such as reducing stress, depression, and improving the immune system1. You might be surprised to hear that the result of this study, showed holidays can impact your heart rate response to stress in the lead up to your holidays2. So even planning a holiday has health benefits.
In this article we stretch your thinking, to discover what could you hold onto from your holiday to allow you to feel better, as you live your everyday life.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you typically respond to “How are you?” With “I’m fine, I’m flat out busy.”
- Have you noticed you have less time for family, friends, yourself?
- Is your to-do list getting longer and yet you feel you haven’t actually done anything?
If you have answered yes to these, you might be suffering from busyness syndrome. We have been conditioned by society to believe that by continuing to add responsibilities and fill our calendars until we have no time to even think, we are productive, even successful.
Pause for a moment to reflect on how modern society doesn’t promote low stress living.
Let’s understand what stress is doing to your body?
You’re late to work, one of the kids wouldn’t put on their shoes. Your mind is racing with thoughts as you watch the seconds go by, you are beginning to feel it, anger. “Why couldn’t he just put on his shoes”. Then someone cuts across you in the traffic and you let down the window and …
Thanks to neuroscience we now understand more about stress. We know that our hypothalamus communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system that there is a threat present. You might feel this as you notice your heart racing.
In our example above our minds process the shoe incident as if we’ve met a bear. The body gets a message from the brain to send in the stress hormones. Your sympathetic nervous system is triggered, the adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline for the bear. As this hits your bloodstream you notice a number of physiological changes in your body like faster heart beat, increasing your blood pressure, your blood flows to your muscles and breathing might get faster so that enough oxygen is pumped to the brain to keep it alert3.
What’s happening here? A tricky situation triggers your body’s “fight or flight” response, a productive human reaction. In your body’s defence this is all to protect your body against the threat because we are wired for survival. The challenge occurs when our stress response keeps firing, day after day, putting our health at risk. Symptoms of chronic stress include irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia4.
How many of us pause after the shoe incident to recognise our frustration? In life as we live it, we push through physical exhaustion and discomfort and ignore our stress response to keep going. Many of us respond to stress in an unproductive way until we learn how to do it differently.
How can you keep that holiday feeling alive?
We’re back to the sun, sand and sea. You still face stress everyday, however to use our bear analogy, you use that adrenaline productively to protect you, then you rest and recover. Life is slower on holiday, less deadlines with more restorative actions like reading and sleeping. You might even engage in some water activities that use adrenaline positively.
Here are some suggestions we have for you to think about holding onto after your break this year:
1. Stop and connect with how busy you feel. Oftentimes we so quickly fly in and out of holiday mode, we don’t stop to connect what has happened in our bodies. This month we are encouraging you to stop and reflect on what you could take from your holiday. What activities could you use to bring your into your rest and digest more often? Are there areas of your life that you could declutter?
2. Make time to breathe. Remember how we used oxygen to keep the brain alert, oxygen is our biggest tool to calm the brain and body down in times of stress and suffering5. Our sympathetic nervous system acts like a break to the alert system and we can heavily influence this through deep diaphragmatic breathing. I have attached here an audio to a breathing exercise you can practice daily.
3. Let go of rigid food rules and listen to what your body would like to eat. As you let go of the rules, it’s wise to engage in eating that feels right for your body. Sometimes we can use holidays to eat everything, we forbid ourselves and this doesn’t feel very good6. Take the time to explore new foods and challenge yourself to order something you would never usually order. Allow yourself time to rest and digest your food after you eat, register the taste sensation in your mouth. Check in as you eat too, so that your brain can register fullness. Here’s a fun thing to try, when you are eating with friends, notice how fast Your threat response in your brain quite enjoys a slow meal.
Being busy is a choice often one we feel we have to make. However, when we connect that busyness is not a virtue, and we begin to understand how we can rewire our thoughts, we can disconnect busyness to self-worth. We can choose to make some time in our calendar. We can choose actions that support our health. We can ultimately improve our productivity. We will feel our self worth increase. This cycle of behaviour feels much easier to live with.
What holiday feeling could you take with you this August?
- Emmerson, S., 2021. The Scientific Reasons why YOU Need a vacation | Sandbox Fitness & Therapy. [online] Sandbox Fitness & Therapy | Personal Trainers, Nutrition Coaches and Physical Therapists. Available at: www.oakvillesandbox.com/the-scientific-reasons-why-you-need-a-vacation [Accessed 5 August 2021].
- Hruska, B., Pressman, S., Bendinskas, K. and Gump, B., 2019. Do vacations alter the connection between stress and cardiovascular activity? The effects of a planned vacation on the relationship between weekly stress and ambulatory heart rate. Psychology & Health, 35(8), pp.984-999.
- Harvard Health Publishing, 2020. Understanding the stress response. Available at: www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response [Accessed 5 August 2021].
- Healthline. 2017. The Effects of Stress on Your Body. [online] Available at: www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body [Accessed 5 August 2021].
- Brown, R. and Gerbarg, P., 2009. Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172(1), pp.54-62.
- Peschel, S., Tylka, T., Williams, D., Kaess, M., Thayer, J. and Koenig, J., 2018. Is intuitive eating related to resting state vagal activity?. Autonomic Neuroscience, 210, pp.72-75.