Planning your summer vacation: everyone de-stress!
Queen’s University professor Elaine Power is an authority on the relationship between good health and social factors such as wealth, diet, work and culture, so surely she must have learned a few lessons on how to de-stress during vacation time, right?
She has, she admits, but knowing about the importance of relaxing during the holidays does not always ensure she does it properly.
Power, 53, works 60 hours a week and admitted to already dreading the beginning of classes in the fall in the Sociology department at Queen’s, in Kingston, “when all hell breaks loose.” It was only early June when she was interviewed but she said September seemed “just around the corner.”
Thus, the prof takes her summer-vacation planning seriously.
“Though I'm not always good at following through, I try to establish, or re-establish, healthier habits in the summer and on vacation that I could continue for the rest of the year – especially physical activity and meditation, but also to remember to stop and smell the roses, watch the birds build nests, and stop and look at the stars and the moon – basically to observe and appreciate nature around me, even in the city.”
Power was contacted after she waded into a discussion of job stress and health outcomes on the pages of the Globe and Mail the first week of June. Globe writers Andre Picard and David Andreatta had reported on June 3 on new Canadian research from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciencesthat showed that wealthier Canadians were half as likely to die within 10 years of suffering a heart attack than less affluent Canadians were. Picard and Andreatta, referring to the study, wrote, “Socioeconomically disadvantaged people are generally less likely to make healthy lifestyle choices; they may be limited by other medical illnesses or disabilities; their jobs and other family commitments may not leave them time to work out, and they may not have the money to join a gym.”
Power responded in the letters section, arguing, “The conclusion that more exercise accounts for the higher survival rates of the wealthy after a heart attack is simplistic.” Stress, stemming from the patient’s place in social hierarchy, rather than exercise, is a bigger determinant of a healthy and happy life, she suggested.
“The studies I referred to in the letter to the editor show that it is the structural position in the hierarchy that makes the most difference,” Power told FYI. “For example, the civil servants on the top have lots of stress, but they are able to manage it by delegating and have lots of room to schedule and manage their own time, compared to the civil servants on the bottom, the ‘gophers’ and couriers, who have to ‘jump’ whenever someone wants them.”
But regardless of work status and income levels, everyone needs to take time to recharge, and Power and other boomers contacted via Facebook offered generations-honoured advice for vacationers this summer – with a modern twist. The prof is very conscious of the need to leave electronic communications behind if at all possible. She will start her summer off with a work-related “family-mindfulness meditation retreat” at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. led by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh – relaxing, but she will still be on the job.
Power and her young daughter will also visit a brother at a summer home on Lake Erie, but that too will involve some “light work.” Then finally, she will go camping in August with her daughter – “no work, no email, no internet, only a novel or two to read, hikes in the forest, canoeing, swimming, building sandcastles, campfires, stargazing.”
Similarly, Monique Wilson of Hamilton, 52, identified a trio of activities – gathering with family, exercising and getting back to nature – as mechanisms she uses to de-stress. She is an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs and intends to spend vacation time at her sister’s trailer on Lake Talon in Northern Ontario. “My roots have always been with the family and nature, camping, biking, skiing, walking and being fit.”
Jane Todd-Vandale, 53, of Burford, Ont. suffered a disabling injury while working as a personal support worker and no longer works but still, she says, “I still need to recharge in the summer.” She enjoys trips to Lake Erie and “spending fun times at various festivals or activities with my grandchildren.”
Lucie Pellerin, a mid-fifties wedding and event planner from Ottawa, gets away during the summer at regional parks and looks forward to family gatherings. “My family and I gather for Mattawa Voyageur Days. We can gather those from Ottawa and those from North Bay. Especially since both parents have passed on we can call camping a legacy from them and hold them in our hearts. Nature is very important to me to re-energize.”
The professor Power from Queen’s, finally, suggests, “It would seem more important to have some time to oneself every day, especially for caregivers, to reduce stress, rather than waiting for vacation.”
3 Ways to De-Stress this Summer
• get in tune with nature, walk on the beach, smell the roses – and turn off all electronics
• get together with family *
• be active – paddling, biking, hiking, swimming, golfing
* although depending on some family members, this can up the stress quotient!