7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

cat smiley hiking at whistler fitness vacations

Find your zen in the mountains (& bring it home too!)

Self-care is so very important to both your physical and emotional health – plus it prevents you from getting burnt out from continually giving. Often people who spend a lot of time supporting and nurturing others feel zapped in energy. Exercise can feel like it’s the last thing you want to do.

With multiple days feeling this way, turning into multiple weeks… this can turn into a pattern of sedentary lifestyle choices.


Taking the time to reconnect and care for yourself will help infinitely with stress management. Exercise should be a non-negotiable, and it does so much more than just boost your fitness. It also boosts your life!

“Whatever you do, don’t think of exercise as just one more thing on your to-do list. Find an activity you enjoy — whether it’s an active tennis match or a meditative meander down to a local park and back — and make it part of your regular routine. Any form of physical activity can help you unwind and become an important part of your approach to easing stress.” – Mayo Clinic

Click here for live in fitness retreat programs, that’ll kick start your change in a fun way.

health vacations - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Cat Smiley guiding summer hiking tours at Whistler Fitness Vacations.

You can’t pour from an empty cup!

Hello, I’m Cat – I’m the writer of this article and also the owner/operator of Whistler Fitness Vacations wellness retreat in British Columbia, Canada. I’ve also given stress management presentations over the years not just to my fitness clients, but also to corporate groups and events.

As a certified Life Coach and former professional athlete I’ve developed deep understanding about living on the edge, feeling fear, selective risk and above all, keeping calm to carry on.

In this article you’ll learn some of the key lessons I teach :

  • Why your body stresses (and how you can manage it)
  • What stress does for your health
  • Some health effects of taking in too much stress
  • 7  ways that health vacations help you find calm in your life

NOTE! This post won’t help you much if you’re in a clinical state and need help from a mental health professional. Get emergency help immediately if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, jaw or back pain, pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, sweating, dizziness, or nausea. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not stress symptoms.

health vacations 1 - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Hiking in the mountains is an amazing way to restore your sense of self while feeling happier.

Why your body stresses (and how you can manage it)

Whenever we sense any danger, whether real or imagined, stress is our body’s way to activate its defence system. While stress is harmless in small doses, experiencing it constantly can have its toll on your mind and body.

  • Get some exercise – even walking for 10 minutes will help.
  • Remember to drink water. Make a conscious effort to stay hydrated.
  • Try to honor at least 7 hours in bed at night, even if you can’t sleep.
  • Speak to people who love you about what’s bugging or overwhelming you.
  • Don’t beat yourself up about it – life would be boring without a bit of stress!
  • Pick your battles. Ask yourself if this is really going to matter in 3 hours… 3 days etc.
  • Breathe! Pause for 10 seconds and exhale all the way out.

Through my health vacations, I’ve worked with many go-getter women who’ve slowly ditched fitness and self-care as their priority. This takes huge stress on both, body and spirit. Yet with small steps they’ve been able to upgrade their life to be happier and more wholesome.

What stress does for your health

Okay first let’s start with the basics. What’s so bad about stress? And doesn’t everyone get it?

It’s true that everyone is faced with some level of stress. But not everyone feel the effects of that stressful situation. That’s not to say that they don’t take the situation seriously, it just means that they’re able to keep calm and carry on, literally (I hate that expression, it’s so overused!)

Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behaviour. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help you manage them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. – Mayo Clinic

Sometimes, headaches kick in when we’re stressed or burnt out. We’re prone to insomnia and back pains when in stress as well as low energy, muscle aches or stomach issues. The bottom line is that stress management is not an option; it is the ONLY way for a strong and healthy life. We can’t get away from potentially stressful situations, so learning how to handle them in a way that is positive towards our health is essential. This will both help us deal with the problem, and stop any harmful conditions linked to chronic stress come to the surface.

health vacations pug doesnt like mondays - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Oh sweet pug we don’t like Mondays either….

Some health effects of taking in too much stress

  • Unhealthy mind: constant rumination on problems can result in anxiety and insomnia.
  • Muscle pain: prolonged tension in muscles can lead to making them fatigued.
  • Cardiovascular diseases: stress can raise blood pressure.
  • Obesity risk: constant stress can result in emotional eating and elevated cortisol levels.

READ: The Effects of Stress on Your Body

NOTE: This article is referring to environmental and emotional stress – not physical stress, such as overtraining or lack of sleep. Will save that for another post. 

health vacations cooking with loved one - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Self care can be as simple as cooking with a loved one.

7 ways that health vacations help you find calm in your life

Through holistic nutrition, wholesome workouts, outdoor exercise and soulful people to support you on your journey… programs like Whistler Fitness Vacations in B.C., Canada are also leading the way in stress management. This mountain-based program blends insightful classes with hormone-balancing and effective weight loss strategies. Programming is designed to allow guests to recenter, find calm and learn ways to manage stress effectively. Click here to learn more. 

  1. Fitness vacations get you moving!
  2. Health vacations make you prioritize self-care
  3. They remind you how good stretching feels
  4. You sleep really, really well after a full day in the mountains
  5. So.Much.Love. How wonderful it is to be surrounded by great people
  6. They package all the holistic things (that you know you should be doing) together
  7. The zen vibe rolls into your life at home (usually)

weight loss camp 2020 banner scaled - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress1. Health vacations get you moving

While it’s tempting to head to Thailand or somewhere tropical for a relaxing spa vacation, the benefits may be short lived. Destination fitness retreat programs are simply the best ways to get outside, and get moving! You’re not only surrounded by like-minded others, you’re surrounded by the beauty of nature all around. What better motivation!

Keeping yourself active can be hard when you’re overweight, and simply booking a personal trainer a few days a week. There’s only so much success the trainer can have with your weight loss. I know, I was her! For ten years I trained clients day in, day out for one hour a day. Even though my advice was to make certain choices after our training sessions together, the reality is, nothing beats a live in fitness camp for accountability and coaching.

Sometimes stress makes you want to isolate, which makes matters worse! Being at a health retreat will make you WANT to join the world outside your bedroom, because there’s a lovely hike happening at 9am that you want to do!

Go out in the sun, enjoy nature and let it have a positive effect on your mood. Go out and have a hike in nature to unwind or try a low impact exercise that will help tone up the mood and the body.

LEARN MORE Whistler guided hiking tours

kayaking at health vacations in whistler - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Tiphaine (in orange) one of our fitness guides at Whistler Fitness Vacations with the team! Kayaking is super fun.

2 You prioritize self-care while on a health retreat

Meditation and structured relaxation are proven to fight stress effectively, and Whistler Fitness Vacations is the perfect place to start the healthy habit. Our personal coaching retreats guide guests through an amazing schedule of movement that inspires you to continue at home. Self-care is made easier with the Life Mastery workshops and soulful group discussions on personal development topics, such as stress. It can be pretty challenging to make time for a stress management workshop at home when you’re already maxed out on time! 

Do you have an activity in your life that makes you feel calm? Reading, art, music, cooking… shopping perhaps?

Making time to do things that allow you to regroup your thoughts and take a break will prevent you from feeling overwhelm. Try to nurture personal interests every day as a precautionary tactic to find the balance. It is not always easy to get in the mood for peaceful environment when stress is seeping in.

Sometimes at the workshops at Whistler health vacations we encourage guests to use visual images to stimulate the mind. Usually before a stress management workshop we go for a gorgeous hike in the forest, as  powerful way to get into the right frame of mind for self-care.  

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The term “burnout” was first coined by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 in his book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He defined it as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce a desired result” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ . Basically, a burnout is the way our brain and body reacts to prolonged stress due to feeling discouraged and exhausted. We tend to become cynical when burnt out and start to perform poorly at work because we start to hate it. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ . In this list are some common signs of a burnout. It is related to my previous post that lists physical and psychological symptoms of stress. These are related because when we are in that stressful state for a long period of time, we will eventually experience a burnout. Although it is not a psychological disorder, it is something we should take seriously. We spend a lot of our time working. So, if we start to hate our job and are not satisfied with what we are contributing, our health can deteriorate significantly. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ . Pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion will result in us feeling burnt out. We lose focus and may even have reduced cognitive functioning. We may think we are working hard, but we are most likely not working efficiently! If you are feeling burnt out, I encourage you to take a break and recharge this weekend. Sending you lots of love, Nawal ♥️

A post shared by Nawal Mustafa | M.A. (@thebraincoach) on

3. They remind you how good stretching feels

When the body is relaxed, it’s easier for the mind to be calm too. Stretching is an easy way to calm your nervous system and recenter. 

It only takes 10 minutes to do a simple stretch routine and when done properly, this can be equally as effective as an hour of yoga class. The overwhelm of pushing yourself to make time for yoga can give quite a bit of anxiety.

For me, yoga feels like an all-or-nothing ordeal where I always feel like I’m done about half way through the class. It’s more stress relieving to go for a power walk at sunset by the beach with my dog! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about downward dogs as well. Yet zen is about having a balanced body and mind which I cannot find if I’m squeezing yoga into my day.

Whistler Fitness Vacations teaches wonderful sports stretch classes on the gorgeous dock, before we go out kayaking. It’s very peaceful to be doing yoga on a glacial lake! The style that we use with our health vacations guests is typically more slow paced and relaxing – restorative, yin yoga style. There’s more meditative mindfulness practice than the traditional poses.

stretching at whistler fitness vacations - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Sports Stretch classes at Whistler Fitness Vacations feel so good. Click here to see a typical day.

4. You sleep really, really well after a full day in the mountains

When sleep deprived, our body releases stress hormones. Being insomniac and having lesser sleep every night can escalate into a health hazard. The ideal sleeping time of an adult should be 6-8 hours every night.

Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. – American Psychological Association

All that great exercise in the mountains boosts your ability to sleep because you’re producing so many healthy endorphins. These are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. Healthy sleep is at the core of stress survival and health vacations are a great opportunity to catch up on lost rest. When you sleep better, you’ll feel more energized to move your body, eat healthy, and generally prioritize self-care. Your mind will feel rested and more able to manage the big tasks of your life.

guest room at the westin resort and spa - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Catch some glorious sleep at Whistler Fitness Vacations luxury weight loss retreats. Guests stay at the Westin Resort and Spa.

5. Theres so much power when women get together

There’s lots of wonderful conversation at our hiking weight loss retreats for women as you’re spending many hours on the trails together. Often guests talk about what’s stressing them out, asking for help or suggestions with their new friends. They’re also giving it back, there’s healthy engagement of positive self talk.

Don’t you just love the feeling of getting big hugs? That’s the work of oxytocin releasing in the body, a hormone that influences our behaviour and physiology. At the time of stress, it’s this feeling that drives us to seek support from those we feel comfortable sharing our feelings with. The more we seek support, the more oxytocin gets released. This process tells our brains to relax and be less anxious!   

Having a strong support system around does wonders to our overall well-being. Health vacations like Whistler Fitness Vacations is a great way to surround yourself with positive people that uplift you. Dogs are also great for this – the most loyal creatures on the planet. There’s always dogs to say hello to in Whistler 🙂

READ: This Dog-Friendly Fitness Retreat Tailors An Epic Hiking Adventure – Just For You!

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6. Health vacations package it all together

It’s easier sometimes when we’re at home to get only one thing on track at a time – such as a workout. But did it take cutting sleep to get to the gym, ordering take-out for lunch and feeling stressed? While the intention is there to be healthier with exercise, life should be approached holistically. Only when you can check off the below things, should you then be adding a workout.

  1. Getting at least 6 hours of sleep, preferably longer.
  2. Drinking enough water, at least 2 litres per day – more if you workout or it’s a hot climate.
  3. Finding time in your day to connect with someone in a soulful way.
  4. Nourishing yourself with a diet that aligns with your health values.
  5. Spend a few minutes doing restorative work, stretching, rolling, inversion table.

In the soulful art of personal development, it’s necessary to reflect sometimes on how we could upgrade our patterns. Working with a life coach to gain clarity is a really beneficial way to package your wellness priorities the best way. Health vacations are a good place to plan what daily habits are worth building.

flowers with breakfast scaled - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress

Practice self-care whenever you can, even the most simple ways like fresh flowers on your breakfast tray.


7. The zen vibe rolls into your life at home (usually)

Taking health vacations are wonderful for kick starting your change towards healthier and happier. With your time away, you’ve likely come to realize a few things that you need upgraded in your life at home. Things like clutter, better sleeping patterns, less conflict, more exercise and of course, better organization with your meals. Fitness retreats can get you through that awkward beginner stage of working out, making it easier to go to a gym in your home town with confidence. You’ll also feel motivated by the encouraging weight loss and want to continue!

One of the first things that I recommend is to buy yourself flowers for your desk when you get home. That small gesture of self-care will give you a nice boost. I always push myself to find time before I leave for vacation to clean my house really well – it’s so nice to walk through the door, drop your bags, house is already clean.

When it comes to the relationships around you, perspective may have changed. When you’re the customer, you’re treated with an elevated respect and courtesy which is a nice reminder of how relaxing it is to be in a drama-free environment. Bring this into your home life by realizing that you don’t have to join every stress party that you’re invited to. You’re in control of what drives you nuts, and what doesn’t!

Nobody has the perfect day or life without having the right attitude – and perception of what they’ll allow into their space.

women on pink flamingo scaled - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stress


Take the courageous step to sit with pain sometimes. Without masking it, or venting it. Catch stress before it escalates. Realize that you don’t have to be ‘fine’ all the time and in the midst of chaos, being stressed is a normal human reaction!

Wire your brain to be able to react and manage the situation better. Soon you’ll find yourself being in a better position to move through the various emotions of the day with calm and grace. 

READ: 5 Self-Care Practices for Every Area of Your Life

If stress is an area of your life that is negatively impacting you, embrace the opportunity to join a wellness retreat with an open heart. When there, jot down ways to take parts of the experience home with you. Prevent burnout when you go home by developing healthier self-care habits because you are worth it.

cat smiley best weight loss retraets  - 7 valuable lessons that health vacations teach you about managing stressSending you oodles of positivity from my home office in Whistler. Yep, fresh flowers on the desk!

I’ve seen the most strung-out, stressed-out, crazed-out highly busy people totally transform their lives from a little bit of time away. We never plan for our world to get turned upside down, and we’re all doing the best we can based on what’s available to us. Reclaim that bold and beautiful person that you are, starting now! Caring for yourself is one of the few things in life that we actually have control of.

Stress Management Resources

Hey, I’m Cat Smiley. I’m a fitness, nutrition, weight loss and life coach. Hire me if you want results! Click here to learn more about my 1-to-1 phone coaching services, upcoming weight loss retreats, and personal workshops.

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