Making healthier habits: Calm down and carry on

How do you hold onto that calm feeling of being on holiday, when less than 24 hours after being back


How do you hold onto that calm feeling of being on holiday, when less than 24 hours after being back you are buzzing again?

I was worried about this before coming home. I started to vibrate a few days ago: emails and texts started flowing in. Another story is on the horizon that I am super excited about: This week Best Health food writer Paul Finkelstein and I are going with a group of high school students, like-minded healthy foodies and chefs to Cape Dorset, Nunavut to share healthy eating and fitness concepts and learn about their cultural traditions. I will be blogging about it next week, and writing a feature for Best Health about our experience. It will be fun, eye opening and interesting but there is a ton of work to do. I shifted into high gear from the moment I woke up, less than 12 hours after vacation had officially ended.

How many of us go on holiday and think about how we are going to change our lives ‘ be a little calmer, less stressed? And then how many of us rev up before the plane has come to a full stop on the tarmac? Today was stacked with work and other duties: dropping the kids at school, groceries, work, laundry, picking the kids up, more work, teaching fitness classes, emptying dishwashers, tucking the kids into bed so both my husband and I could finish working. My mother made us supper and for that I say: "thank you mum." It was one thing I didn’t have to worry about tonight.

We are all so very, very busy. I can hear you: “join the club.” But it is a badge of pride to wear in our society, to be a whirling dervish throwing plates. As I was pondering this, my brilliant mother tucked a review of Brigid Schulte’s new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has Time in with the casserole. ‘Read this,’ mum told me. ‘It is about you.’

Schulte is a writer with the Washington Post, a working mother who calls herself a ‘work in progress’ as she meets deadlines, makes Thanksgiving feasts and bakes cupcakes at 2 a.m. for the bake sale. In Overwhelmed Schulte looks at how official policies ‘ particularly in North American workplaces, where being available 24/7 is the norm ‘ and societal pressures are literally putting our lives through the wringer; mothers have it worse than fathers, with the burden of meals, homework and to-do lists falling back on traditional lines more often. The cost of this isn’t simply social or psychological, but physical. Chronic stress raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other ailments. And, we know that the number one reason Canadians don’t exercise ‘ a health measure that research shows will stave off these preventable diseases by 80 percent ‘ is because we are too busy.

I worry about the toll this busy life is having on me, but I’m also worried about my kids, that they are learning the art of being busy from their father and I.

My daughter is only five, yet her days are stacked: she goes to school, has a couple of after-school activities, and is learning to read and play piano. She loves gymnastics with her posse of girlfriends on the weekend, and has a calendar full of play dates and birthday parties. She is very social, and is savouring life. I love that about her, but I worry her level of activity is too much. I’m not the first parent to worry about over-programming.

I’m not going to talk about the halcyon days where we came back from school and had to use our imaginations ‘ imaginations! Remember the days when there didn’t seem to be endless choices for after-school programs for kids? Todays you have to choose between skiing or skating, piano or guitar, karate or soccer, drama or ballet, art or pottery class. Or do you?

Maybe this is it: we fill our time with tons of obligations, because there is the expectation that we should. Everyone else is doing it, right? One of my students told me her husband is going to be away this weekend and she has filled her days with brunch dates, yoga classes and other social obligations leaving no time to read in the bath. She seemed a little forlorn (and she doesn’t have kids yet).

How do we insert a little more calmness into our lives? How do we live a more balanced life so that we’re not escaping to Mexican beaches, then dreading our return to reality? We start learning how to say no. Once you’ve found out how you are going to do it, let me know.

I once told a wise life coach that I felt like my life was a series of balls I was juggling – and I was a mediocre juggler. I seemed to always drop one ‘ if I was sending ‘work balls’ soaring into the air, I was surely dropping the ‘family’ ball. She reminded me that we aren’t perfect, but to imagine a basket where you can put a few of those balls down from time to time.

Now that I think about it, there is the ‘bake cupcakes at 2 a.m.’ ball that I’ve juggled on occasion. And there is definitely the ‘plan themed-birthday parties’ ball.
Those balls need to go in the basket.

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health.