After battling traffic and deadlines all day, you deserve a soothing treat. But it's not always easy or practical to go shopping, soak in a lavender-scented bubble bath, or plan a weekend getaway. So we asked experts from all walks of life to share their best tips for rewarding and refreshing yourself without a lot of time or money. Get ready to close your eyes and say, "Ahhh."
Turn your exercise green
Skip your usual workout and take a simple stroll in the woods. A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that exercising in nature for as little as five minutes benefits mental and physical health. And according to Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, author of Beat the Gym, so-called "green exercise" can even burn more calories than indoor workouts. For example, hiking at 4 mph burns 358 calories per hour versus 291 for the same time and pace on a treadmill.
Tickle your funny bone
Giggling along with Jon Stewart or The Big Bang Theory doesn't just feel good; it's good for you, research shows. "Laughter reduces stress hormones, promotes blood flow and relaxes muscles," explains Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You.
To get more humor in your life, listen to a comedy show on Sirius Radio during your commute, sign up for a joke-of-the-day email through an online service, or check out FunTweets.com. Even forcing yourself to laugh at, say, your supervisor's jokes can have positive health effects because "it increases your genuine desire to laugh," Lombardo adds. Ha!
Tune up your mood
Listening to a favorite song triggers the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical. "There's no right or wrong tune," explains Lombardo, "as long as the melody stirs you." In fact, just anticipating listening to the song can produce the same effect, so if you're in a place where music isn't allowed (like at work), let the melody run through your head or hum it. Try saving really special tunes, like the song you danced to at your wedding, for those days when you're feeling particularly down.
Clean out a junk drawer
Okay, we admit this tip sounds crazy but organizing a tiny piece of your life when everything else feels out of control can bestow a gratifying sense of peace.
"My clients always tell me they feel better after organizing a space, be it a closet, desk, pantry or junk drawer," says Beth Bracaglia, the chief organizing officer at SimplyOrganizedToday.com. Can't decide what to toss and what to keep? Here's the rule: "If you haven't used something in six months, you don't need it any longer," she says. "Throw it out!" (Note: This may or may not apply to husbands/boyfriends.)
Press away stress
The more anxiety you feel, the more you tend to retreat into yourself. But there's an acupressure point that can help you de-stress and open your heart to others. It's called Ren 17. It's located in the middle of your sternum (the flat bony plate between your ribcages.
"Find it by counting down to the fourth rib," says Susan Shane, a licensed acupuncturist and the author of Vitality Fusion. It'll be between the nipples at the center of the chest. "Press firmly using the pad of your finger," she explains. "It may feel sore and you might feel a pulse, but that's good. It means you're on the spot that'll calm you down."
Create a soothing scent
But sorry, it can't be chocolate souffle. Rather, pick two or three essential oils you love and blend them into a signature scent. Here's how to do it, according to Hope Gillerman, founder of hgillermanorganics.com: Combine a few drops of each oil in a small glass cup or bowl. Swirl, sniff and tweak until it's perfectly balanced. Then put a few drops in your palm, rub your hands together, and cup them over your face. Take 10 slow, full breaths.
"You'll be amazed how your whole demeanor changes," says Gillerman. To make a luxurious and relaxing scent you can wear all day, dilute the same mixture with jojoba oil. For body oil, dilute it even more.
Take a daydream break
Sure it may look like you're staring vacantly off into space, but allowing your mind to wander not only gives it a break but also sparks brain function and creativity. In fact, a 2012 study found that daydreaming is actually a highly engaged brain state. It can even help you hone in on what you want to do with your life.
"I often hear from clients that they don't know how to plan their future," says Gina Gomez, founder of What Moves You Life Coaching. "So I encourage them to close their eyes and imagine in as much detail as possible what they want their life to look like— lifestyle, location, a typical day... The clearer you are on what you want, the easier it is to go after it."
Rub yourself the right way
Computer work can be particularly hard on hand muscles. For relief, occupational therapist and certified hand therapist Chris Sorrells recommends this self-massage technique: With the right palm facing down, grasp the right forearm with the left hand, positioning the left index finger about an inch below the crease of the right elbow.
Then massage the forearm with moderate pressure, searching for tight or tender spots with your fingertips. After a few minutes, swap arms. Even though you're not actually massaging your hands, they will instantly feel better.
Imagine yourself calm
If you find meditating difficult and unrewarding, try guided imagery.
"It's the lazy man's meditation because you don't have to do anything," explains psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek, who runs HealthJourneys.com. "It can shift your mood, like turning your radio dial to a different station."
Perfect your pucker
Mani-Pedis, facials...sometimes beautifying yourself in small ways is the ultimate treat. Here's one you may not have thought of: For younger-looking, ultra-smooth, full lips, dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, MD, recommends doing this once per week: Gently scrub your lips with a paste of baking soda and water to exfoliate dead cells. Wash off the mixture and apply Vaseline. Do this at night, just before bed.
When you wake up you'll look like Angelina Jolie (before you put in your contacts, that is). Apply some lip gloss then go find your Brad Pitt.
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