17. Each Sunday, plan out your meals for one week. Studies show that as late as 4 p.m., a majority of people don’t know what they’re going to have for dinner that night. Planning ahead prevents the end-of-workday stress of trying to figure out what to eat. “Knowing what’s for dinner when you come in from work cuts down on stress and encourages better eating and family time,” says Audrey Thomas, an organizational consultant and author of The Road Called Chaos.
18. Decorate your office walls with your children’s or grandchildren’s pictures. Studies find that viewing works of art — and yes, children’s pictures are art — lowers stress hormones. If you don’t want to hang up finger-painted stick figures, go to print-art.com to print out copies of works of art from the world’s great masters.
19. Relax with a cup of basil tea. Thought to help induce a state of calm, this herb is easy to grow in a container garden and one of the easiest fresh herbs to find at your grocery store. Place three washed fresh basil leaves in a cup of hot water. Steep 10 minutes, then sip.
20. If exercise isn’t helping to lower your stress level, switch from a repetitive type of exercise to a type that engages your mind. “Sometimes workouts are not effective at reducing stress because we use the time to think about all the stressful things we have going on,” explains Larina Kase, Psy.D., president of Performance and Success Coaching and a psychologist at the Center for Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. Step aerobics, very active spinning classes (where you change positions a lot), and circuit training or interval training (where you alternate different activities) prevent your mind from drifting, providing the mental break you need. A good option at home is dancing. Play your favorite music, and really get into it. Involve your whole family to benefit one and all, and add a great “bonding” experience into the bargain.
21. Go somewhere blue or green. Cool colors, such as light blues and greens, help people to relax, feel calm, and relieve stress, says Dr. Kase. When you’re at the end of your wits, sit in a room where you can surround yourself with cool colors or find a bench in a garden. Having lush green plants in your home or office can provide similar color-related benefits.
22. Take on just one new activity at a time. When you try to master too many new activities at once, you can easily feel overwhelmed, explains Edward J. Cumella, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and director of research and education at the Remuda Ranch Treatment Centers in Wickenburg, Arizona. “Both at work and at home, take on new commitments with care,” he says. “When your job is pushing the envelope, don’t do more at home. Don’t buy a new house and simultaneously take on higher car payments. When your home life is stressful and changing, don’t quit your job or change careers!”
23. Schedule six to eight hours of free time each week. Use the time to daydream, read a novel, take a nap, see a movie, or generally relax in whatever way feels best to you. This is your time. Guard it as closely as you do your PIN code for the ATM.
24. Drop in on a yoga class. Just one class is all you need to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to a study from Jefferson Medical College. Researchers took blood samples from 16 beginners taking their first week of yoga classes. Cortisol levels dropped after the first class.
25. Several times during the day, immerse yourself fully in the task at hand. Chew your food slowly and taste every bite. Notice the temperature and sensation of water as you wash the dishes. You can even just sit and breathe, noticing the temperature of the air as it travels in and out of your nostrils. This will help you let go of stressful thoughts and allow you to rest in the present moment. “When you are relaxed, you stop to smell the roses, taste your meal, and enjoy your grandkids. Your life then seems more full of wonderful things, and that in turns makes you more optimistic, which makes you calmer and happier,” says Rob Goldblatt, Psy.D., author of The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Be Sad.
26. Count your blessings once a day. Once every day, say to yourself (or to someone else): “I feel lucky to have —— in my life” or “I feel privileged to have ——” Fill in the blanks with the names of family or friends, or with other positives, such as good health or a good career, suggests Dr. Winner.
27. Have a really good cry. By crying tears you were holding in, you can eliminate depression, make it easier to think clearly, heal old pain and hurt, and achieve a sense of inner peace, says Southern California psychotherapist Tina Tessina, Ph.D., author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction. Plus, she says, studies find that crying boosts the immune system and reduces levels of stress hormones.
28. When you’re stressed or tired and someone wants more of you than you can give, tell him you only have a few minutes to talk or that you are tired and not able to really listen right then. Believe it or not, he will trust you more because you are honest and you will not be taking on more issues than you can tackle, says Dr. Kase.
29. Practice some difficult assertiveness skills such as declining a project, telling someone that you cannot talk now, expressing disagreement or disapproval or recommending an alternative. Increasing assertiveness skills can greatly reduce your feelings of stress at work and increase your sense of self-confidence, says Dr. Kase. Be assertive in a friendly but firm way.