Lighten Up! How to Stop Taking Life So Seriously.
Lighten Up Your Life
Whenever your house gets overwhelmingly messy, you start tossing and organizing. Why not do the same for your emotional clutter—get rid of all the stuff that's been sapping your energy and bringing you down? Here, seven sanity-saving tips that will help you do just that. Less stress guaranteed!
Whenever you check your to-do list, it's a reminder of all the mundane tasks you have hanging over your head, which can be overwhelming, says Sandra Magsamen, author ofLiving Artfully. But if you look for a positive in each task, doing them becomes more enjoyable. Out with a daunting must-do list—in with a manageable "Today I Get To" list. "It's about making a conscious choice to shift your thinking," says Magsamen.
Ask yourself,What's one good thing about doing this task?And jot down the answer on your list. Take laundry. It used to be one of Magsamen's least favorite chores. "But ever since I found a great-smelling laundry detergent, I've come to love taking the clean clothes out of the dryer." Or, if chauffeuring your kids is on your list, don't focus on how much you hate being stuck in traffic; instead, take advantage of the golden opportunity it provides to talk, advises Michele Borba, PhD, author of."Many kids clam up when parents try to talk to them face to face," she says. "They're more comfortable talking side by side, which makes the car ideal."
Knowing what you want can put you on the path to success. According to a study from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the most successful people not only have goals, but also jot them down and refer to them regularly. "Goal setting gives you direction and helps you focus," says study author David Kohl, PhD, professor emeritus. "When you see life aspirations in black and white, you're more likely to commit to them."
Imagine your death. It sounds creepy, but Julie Jeske, an individual and couples counselor in Portland, OR, suggests pondering what people might say about you after you die: "She hated her job, but she never did anything about it." Or "She always dreamed of being a writer." By starting at the end of your life, you can assemble the steps now to get where you want to go.
Make a list of goals, then pick one. Start by writing down any life dream or passion that comes to mind, suggests Debra Castaldo, PhD, adjunct professor of cognitive behavior therapy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey School of Social Work. Just let the words come as they may. It doesn't matter if the goals are big, small, impractical or ridiculous. Once you write one down, draw a line from it and write another. "Think of it as an idea tree," Dr. Castaldo says. "People tend to edit themselves and set goals that are too narrow. Doing it this way, sort of stream-of-consciousness writing, lets all kinds of ideas flow." Then prioritize: Pick the most doable goal first and start moving toward it.
Make a collage. Cover a large posterboard with pictures and words that represent your goals or desires, saysSan Francisco life coach Tara Sophia Mohr. "For some people, focusing on an idea is easier when they can see it." You can either hang your collage or store it—many people are inspired just by the activity, says Mohr.
We all have one: the friend who takes more than she gives, talks only about herself or makes little digs. "When the cost of a relationship is greater than the benefits, it's time to change it or end it," says Rebecca G. Adams, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You'll be a lot happier and may even prolong your life. In analyzing decades of studies on women's relationships, researchers at Brigham Young University found that one thing was true across the board: People who have strong friendships improve their odds of living longer by 50%. What better reason to whittle out the bad ones?
Don't be so available. Change your schedule, says Nancy Berk, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Pittsburgh. When you're no longer free for your standing morning coffee together, she'll get the hint.
"Niche-market" certain friends. Some people are great listeners. Others are always up for a girls' night out. Recognize who's who in your network and keep them in the "niche" where they serve you best, recommends Dr. Berk. "Recognize each friend's strengths, weaknesses and personality type, and don't expect any of them to be all you want them to be," says Dr. Berk. "You will save yourself a lot of disappointment."
Confront her nicely. "If you value the friendship, give your pal a chance to make it better," says licensed psychotherapist Christina Steinorth, author of."But you want to be direct without hurting her feelings." Here's one way to be firm, yet caring with a fault-finding pal: "I can always count on you to tell me the truth. But sometimes it feels like you look for problems instead of just being happy for me, and I could really use more support." If her behavior doesn't change, niche-market her.
You don't function as well when you're sleep-deprived, says Karin Mahoney, spokeswoman for The Better Sleep Council in Alexandria, VA. "Without a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, you become more irritable and your comprehension is diminished," she says. What's more, a University of Chicago study found that getting an hour less of sleep a night increases your odds of hypertension by 37%, and research published in the journalSleepsuggests that over time, fewer than 6 hours of shuteye can age your brain by as much as 7 years. That's bad news for the 60% of people who experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night, according to research from the National Sleep Foundation. Make sure you're not one of them.
Treat yourself like a kid. You set a bedtime routine for your children: a bath, a story, then lights off. Set one for yourself too, says Mahoney. Rather than doing chores or watching TV at night—both of which stimulate you to stay awake—take a warm shower, read a good book or listen to relaxing music. "It preps your body for those first sleep stages," Mahoney says.
Drink cherry juice. A University of Rochester study found that downing a glass of tart cherry juice can help bring on the sandman. The reason, researchers believe, may be related to tart cherries' high content of melatonin, which can help regulate sleep.
Go to the light. You want to wake up with lots of energy so that by nightfall your body is ready for rest. One way: Seek light when you get up. Open the curtains as soon as you get out of bed. Eat breakfast near a sun-drenched window. "The human body is programmed to be triggered by light," says Anthony Levitt, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. "So exposing yourself to natural light for at least 15 minutes in the morning, especially before 10 A.M., helps you feel more energetic."
Start the day with H2O. If you want to perk up, drink water instead of coffee in the A.M., says Holly Andersen, MD, director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. "Your body is dehydrated first thing in the morning, and coffee only adds to the problem," she says. "Water is your best bet for hydration, which boosts energy."
"Holding on to anger can be damaging to your health because it increases stress hormones like cortisol, which may put you at higher risk for high blood pressure, digestive problems, even heart disease," says Jonathan Alpert, a licensed psychotherapist and author of.Plus, he adds, it's a waste of your mental energy. "It takes much more effort to hang on to a grudge than it does to let it go."
Write it down. "Things that are hurtful are more powerful in your memory," says Jon Gordon, author ofThe Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy.Even the slightest trigger can send your mind right back to that pain. "But if you write it down—what happened, how you feel—it lets you get it out in the open, which helps your mind stop clinging to the memory," he says.
Evaluate the day-to-day cost. Ask yourself what you sacrifice by continuing to be angry, says Alpert. If you're so peeved at the person that you refuse to be around her, you may miss out on fun times and seeing other friends. Is what you're giving up really worth it?
Decide to forgive. "Forgiveness is a choice," says Gordon. "It's not easy, but it is doable." The key is realizing that it's for you, not the friend who did you wrong. "Deep down, you know that holding on to resentment hurts you. You're the one walking around with pent-up anger and hostility." Do your health and psyche a favor and let it go.
Some of your behavior may be minor (nail biting, knuckle cracking, gum snapping). But, as you're probably well aware, other habits like mindless snacking or smoking can be dangerous to your health. "First, you have to make a conscious decision to change," says Laurie Nadel, PhD, a psychotherapist in New York City. "Then you need a plan, because breaking a bad habit takes more than willpower."
Change your environment. In a recent University of Southern California study, moviegoers were given either fresh popcorn or week-old, stale popcorn. Those who always ate popcorn at the movies devoured even the stale snack. But when those same people were served the stale popcorn while in a conference room, they rejected it. "It's the disruption of the environment that makes people aware of what they're doing," says Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia Business School and author ofSucceed: ."Because many bad habits happen automatically—we don't even think about them, we just do them—the key is figuring out the trigger." For the people in the USC study, the movie theater setting was the trigger. To figure out yours, pay attention to where you are and what you're doing when you break into your bad habit, then change things up.
Find a replacement. Emotions can be just as strong a trigger as environment. "If you understand what's behind your habit—for instance, you bite your nails when you're stressed or light up a cigarette when you're nervous—you can find an alternative that achieves the same thing," says Dr. Nadel. For instance, you can try knitting to occupy your hands or chewing gum to keep your mouth busy. "It's difficult to know in advance what will work," says Dr. Halvorson. "It's a bit of trial and error, so try different things until you hit upon the right one."
Switch hands. Remember those popcorn eaters? USC researchers found something else that turned off their habitual snacking switch: using the other hand. When popcorn lovers snacked with their nondominant hand at the movies, they didn't eat the stale stuff. Why? Because using the opposite hand was enough to disrupt the mindlessness of the habit and force them to think about what they were doing. So next time you light up or dip into the chips, give it a try.
"People are a lot like cell phones: We need time to recharge," says Paul Schenk, PsyD, a psychologist in private practice in Atlanta. Being off duty, so to speak—no work, no family demands, no chores, no obligations—gives you a chance to decompress. In fact, a University of Wisconsin-Stout study shows that just a few minutes of meditation charges up the positive, mood-boosting parts of your brain. "And that's good for your health and your state of mind. You'll feel more peaceful, more mentally rested and more capable of handling all the things you have to do," says Dr. Schenk. The hard part is finding the time. "That's why you have tomakeit," he adds.
Savor 5-minute breaks. Whenever you have a few uninterrupted moments, use them to your advantage. Say you're waiting in the carpool line or are in between tasks at your job. Close your eyes for 5 minutes and breathe deeply, conjure a pleasant memory and just chill, says Dr. Nadel. "Do it several times a day and these short mini-breaks add up to a healthy dose of relaxation, something we all need daily," she says. "Plus, you'll perform better at whatever you're doing if you make this a regular practice."
Create an upward spiral. Do anything that makes you smile, because it will lead to other activities that make you smile. For instance, when you eat your favorite cookie it makes you feel good, prompting you to do something else positive, like calling a friend. After your chat, you'll be even happier, which might put you in the mood to see a movie. Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, author of , calls this an "upward spiral," a series of momentary positive feelings that, bundled together, lead to a happier you. "It really has a snowball effect on your overall happiness," she says.
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