How a Spa Getaway Changed the Way I Deal With Stress
I’m happiest when I’m moving. I don’t mean riding the train to work, or signing a new apartment lease. I mean physically pushing my body. Getting sweaty. Going for a mind-clearing run. Boxing. Barre. Bootcamp. Strolling. Whatever.
My exercise-induced endorphin high is the antidote to my stress spirals, which go like this: I write a lengthy to-do list. I stare at it until I feel paralyzed. Then I crumble from the stress of feeling paralyzed. So I work out ferociously—an intermission in the panic show. Rinse, repeat.
Last spring, I realized my exercise habit had ratcheted up to the point where I felt either sweaty or sore all time. Not only that, my skin was breaking out, and I was letting the silliest things get under my skin. That's when I learned about the Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon Ranch my colleagues at Health were organizing.
I craved a luxe getaway to a spa where health experts would coo about the importance of fitness and clean eating. (Plus: unlimited access to exercise classes!) And of course, the high-strung, perfectionist side of me wanted to go so I could pitch in, and strengthen my relationships with my co-workers during early-morning Pilates. ("I'm a team player, here for whatever you need!")
I called my mom and asked if she would consider coming along. We could be bunk buddies. She would see me in action. A few nagging texts and she was game.
A month later, we got off an Amtrak train in upstate New York, and met a lovely Canyon Ranch employee, who drove us 40 minutes to the spa's castle-like compound in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Over the next few days, we woke up early for nature walks. I managed to hold crow pose for a few seconds in Kristin McGee's yoga class. I jogged the indoor track. I grinned at my managing editor in anticipation as we waited to kick off a session with celeb trainer Tracy Anderson. I laughed with my mama as she got tangled in TRX ropes. (She's 56 and incredible and tried everything Canyon Ranch had to offer!)
Sign up now for this year's Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon Ranch
Before the trip, I could have predicted those would be some of my favorite moments. After all, I'm used to hunting for my happy place on an exercise mat. But the truth is, the times I felt most at ease were when I wasn't moving at all.
Like when my mom, Kristin, and I sunk into club chairs, and listened to live folk music with our eyes closed. And the round-table discussion on the first evening when the other women and men who had signed up for the weekend shared about what brought them there.
Then there was the night my mom and I rented Blue Jasmine from the DVD library, headed to our room, and snuggled up in robes before 8:30 p.m. And the group dinner in the café when we went around the table and shared the stories behind our middle names. (Cynthia Sass' cute idea.)
I mentioned my revelation in passing to Canyon Ranch's medical director, Cynthia Geyer, MD, after she finished giving a talk to the group about sleep. I said something along the lines of, "I think my body has been trying to tell me I should just do less sometimes," and she encouraged me to heed that instinct.
On the last morning, I had the chance to share my epiphany during the farewell session. I told the group that I had realized my stress symptoms were my body's way of communicating with me. The pimples, the bloating, the dark circles, the aches and pains from my usual run-HIIT-burpee-barre-blah-blah-blah mania: They were my body shouting, "Can you slow down for a minute, woman?!"
I needed a three-day escape to really hear that message. And it has stayed with me. I'm definitely not perfect at the whole taking a breather thing. I have to remind myself that hitting pause to just "be" isn't the same as being lazy. It's O.K.—and entirely necessary—to give yourself a break. I know I always feel better when I do.
In need of your own transformative getaway? You can sign up now for this year's Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon Ranch, May 5-7 in Lenox, Massachusetts.