1. Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep is vital to brain function.
Not only does a good night’s slumber improve learning but studies also show that not spending enough time between the sheets can have a negative impact on your daily life. People who are sleep deprived have a harder time controlling their emotions, making decisions, paying attention, and managing stress.
“When you’re tired, you tend to cope poorly, eat worse, and have bad habits [such as caffeine consumption] that reinforce poor sleep,” says Dr. Atul Khullar, medical director of the Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic and senior consultant for MedSleep, a nationwide network of clinics that treats sleep disorders.
“If you’re sleeping better on vacation, you should really examine your sleep habits in your own bedroom.” Dr. Khullar says that the most important thing is to not bring any problems to bed, which is what happens if you have your phone, computer, or television in the bedroom. It also helps to remove the clock (or angle it) so you can’t watch it and make sure that the room is dark and cool. Finally, you should aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you’re falling short, start by going to bed 10 to 15 minutes earlier. “Added up over a week, it can make a big difference,” he says.
2. Get Moving
Exercise is one of the best and most effective ways to lower stress, and it’s inexpensive and healthy for you. On holiday, you do it without even thinking about it by walking around a new city. At home, you should build it into your day.
“Even moderate-intensity activity, such as going for a brisk walk, releases ‘happy hormones’ like epinephrine, adrenaline, and serotonin, which improve your mood and increase your energy,” says Zilkowsky. “It also lowers all of the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.” Start with 15 minutes of daily exercise, which is enough time to increase your heart rate and begin to reap the benefits.
Cycle to work, do a mini-yoga session or dust off the treadmill in your basement and walk while you watch TV. “It doesn’t have to be a long marathon run or CrossFit session,” says Zilkowsky. As well, she recommends building regular movement breaks into your workday, where you get up from the computer to get a drink of water or stretch.
“It increases productivity and helps you stay focused,” says Zilkowsky. Set a notification reminder to help you remember. Don’t let the cold be an excuse to not exercise.
3. Eat Mindfully
On vacation, we enjoy long drawn-out restaurant meals with loved ones; in real life, we scarf down processed foods in the car on the way to hockey practice. It’s a fact that stress leads to poor food choices, says Andrea Holwegner, a registered dietitian and owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting in Calgary.
“We have really good research to support that families that eat together have less anxiety, less depression and a reduced risk of obesity,” she says. “They score higher on tests academically, all because they’re simply eating together.”
Holwegner recommends that families eat at least one meal a day together to connect and eat healthy (no technology allowed). If dinner isn’t ideal because of work commitments or kids’ activities, let breakfast be the backup. To make meal planning less onerous, ask the question “What’s for supper?” the day before and take something out of the freezer so you won’t have any excuses.