"Intense experiences are not the only route to happiness," says says New York City psychotherapist Linda Barbanel, C.S.W. "Bliss can come from rewarding yourself with random moments of pleasure." These beauty and health ideas are a good starting point.
Recent research shows that laughter really is an antidote to all kinds of mental and physical ailments. "Laughter instantly lessens the flow of stress hormones, lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscles and triggers a flood of endorphins," says Lee Berk, Dr.P.H., assistant research professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California. It may be time to take that hilarious co-worker out to lunch.
Snuggle in Front of a Fragrant Blaze
"A fireplace is a wonderful diffuser," says Sherrie Dawkins, an aromatherapist in Ojai, California. "Just add three drops of essential oil to each log half an hour before lighting the flame."
Create a Pleasure Drawer
Desks are usually receptacles for utilitarian paraphernalia. But in the interest of slipping a little self-nurturing into your days, it's time to turn one into your own on-the-spot spa. "Stock your drawer with personal mementos or simple indulgences," suggests Barbanel. Gather your favorite scents, textures and tastes so you can create your own multisensory stress-relief treatments. Our suggestions: tiny scented candles in beautiful tins; pop-art-inspired beanbag sachets scented with invigorating grapefruit and peppermint; Hershey's Kisses; tiny self-massage tools that slip onto your fingertips; a silky jasmine-laced hand lotion to soothe skin; eucalyptus and mint room sprays to combat midafternoon energy slumps; and a lavender facial mist to perk up your complexion.
Think Pink...or Red
"Color stimulates your eyes and your brain," says Ruth Lande Shuman, founder and president of Publicolor, a nonprofit color-therapy organization. "When used properly, it can make you feel happy, energized and focused." Warm colors (like red, orange and yellow) tend to be energizers, increasing heart rate and circulation; cool colors (such as blue and lavender) act like sedatives—decreasing your heart rate and adrenaline production. "It's even that way with lipstick," says Lande Shuman. "When you're down, you tend to reach for neutrals like brown or beige, but that's the very day you should wear a bright shade. It changes the way you feel and the way others respond to you."
The short, shallow gulps of air most of us take when we're tense make us light-headed and even edgier. That's why Robin Ehrlich, director of New York City's Eastside Massage Therapy Center (and just about every other stress expert we interviewed), suggests that when you're feeling frantic you should stop, close your eyes and refocus your breathing pattern. "Shifting to deep breathing will soothe your nerves, send oxygen to your brain and refresh your mind," she explains. Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of eight. Fill your belly—not your chest—with air. Exhale through your mouth to the count of 10 to 16. Repeat five to ten times, until you feel calmer.
Soothe Your Soles
Forget the reflexology charts and fancy foot creams: This little self-massage puts the spring back in your step in a few minutes. Start by squeezing and releasing each toe individually, front, back and in between. Then stroke the sole of your foot from the ball to the heel in crisscross diagonal lines. Continue rubbing in that same pattern—on one foot, then the other—until your feet feel reenergized.
Press Your Palm
Believe it or not, massaging a few points on your palm may postpone your need for a full-body rub. "Begin by pressing the thumb from your opposite hand on the fleshiest part of your palm and firmly kneading in tiny circles," says Ehrlich. "Move inward to the next spot, making the same slow, spiral motion at least five times at each point until you reach the center of your palm." That should tide you over until you visit a massage therapist for the head-to-toe treatment.
Stroke a Pet
The benefits of living with a pet have captured the attention of scientists, who've observed that pets lower stress. One poll even suggests that pets foster communication and that couples who own a dog—and talk to it—fare better than couples who don't. Actually, this ability to facilitate communication was documented in the sixties by psychologist Boris Levinson who used pets in his work with autistic children and was the laughingstock of the psychiatric community. Today such "assisted therapy" is commonplace. Also, "visiting pets" are welcome at nursing homes and hospitals, where they've been credited with lowering blood pressure and boosting spirits. The pets get a lot out of it too.
Walk, Run or Jump Rope
If there is a magic bullet for general moodiness, our experts agree that moderate exercise is it. "Build 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity into your day," says Deborah Sichel, M.D., psychiatry professor at Harvard University Medical School. "It generates endorphins and reduces stress hormones, so you get a temporary high and put your emotions on a balanced plane."
Unwind with a Whiff
Essential oils can become your personal Pavlovian stimuli. "You can use an oil to elicit a response by creating an association and reinforcing it," says Dawkins. For example, if you use lavender oil during a professional massage, you'll associate the fragrance of that oil with a moment of near nirvana. Once the connection is established, just sniffing that aroma in a less serene setting (a hectic mall or standstill traffic) will recall that warm and fuzzy frame of mind. This kind of olfactory conditioning can also be accomplished with perfume. Wear a fragrance to an emotionally meaningful event and you can conjure up some of those same blissful feelings whenever you need to, with a quick spritz.
Go Ahead, Have a Bite of Chocolate
"Chocolate is better than a martini," says Oz Garcia, director of nutrition programs at New York City's Equinox gym and spa. "It contains alkaloids and magnesium, copper and other minerals that regulate and stabilize brain chemistry." It also creates a natural high, according to Harvard's Sichel. "Chocolate causes a serotonin surge in the brain, so you get an instant wave of euphoria."
Clearly, happiness can come from stimulating our senses– with short, but frequent, moments of pleasure.
You have dozens of little opportunities every day to indulge yourself–so do it.
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