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You Deserve a Break!

When did life become a three-ring circus? Between dealing with tantrums, planning the holiday dinner, and finishing up projects at work, you can easily start to feel less like a ringmaster and more like a frenzied clown rushing wildly from stage to stage.You could ease your mind by getting in a visit with friends, going to the gym, or taking a long soak in a hot bath. But who has the time? If you need to chill out, relax: These pointers give you quick, real-life ways to calm down now.

Relax Your Body

Physical therapy
A no-sweat workout can recharge your batteries and burn a few calories to boot. Try to work more walking into your day, even if you're simply marching in place in front of the TV for a few minutes while waiting for the broccoli to steam or the school bus to arrive. All the better if you can do some of the walking outside -- the fresh air will clear your brain and leave you feeling invigorated. Jog around the block with the stroller, take a brisk walk during your coffee break, or climb up and down the stairs.
To get even more relaxed, combine walking with deep breathing. Find a rhythm that works for you, such as four steps on every breath in and four steps on every breath out.

Hands-on help
Massage is a marvelous way to work out the kinks in tense muscles, especially if someone else is doing it for you, but what if you don't have a partner handy? You've still got your own two hands:

  • Cup your hands over your shoulders so that your fingers are touching your back and the heels of your hands are to the front.
  • Squeeze and release the length of your shoulders in a slow, rhythmic motion, as if you were kneading dough.
  • Make sure you're not just pinching the skin but actually reaching deep into the muscle itself; let your comfort guide how much pressure to apply.
  • Place just the tips of your fingers on the back of your neck, and move them in small circles up and down its length. Press just enough to make the pressure feel good.

Armchair yoga
Ease your muscles when they're sore from wrapping presents or cooking the holiday dinner for hours on end. With a few minutes of easy stretching, you can release muscle tension, and in turn that can help prevent a stiff neck and achy back.

Relax your shoulders

  • Start out by sitting in a comfortable position, either in a chair or on the floor.
  • Raise your right shoulder up toward your ear as far as it can go, then slowly lower it back down, a few times. Do the same with your left shoulder.
  • Next, roll your right shoulder forward as far as it can go and then back a few times. Do the same on the left side.
  • Now roll both shoulders at once.

Relax your neck

  • Start by sitting in a comfortable position.
  • Drop your right ear to your right shoulder without raising the shoulder. Hold for a few seconds.
  • Slowly roll your head forward and to the left. Hold your left ear over your left shoulder for a few seconds.
  • Next, roll your head forward and back to the right; repeat the whole pattern.
  • To finish, roll your head so that your chin drops toward your chest. Let the weight of your head gently stretch the back of your neck. Mmmm, feels good, doesn't it?

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health and psychology writer who has penned eight books, including Meditation (Franklin Watts). The mom of two lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Relax Your Brain

Elevator breathing
You know the old remedy about counting to ten to calm yourself down when you're upset? It really works! This variation can help you handle everything from whining (your husband's, your kid's, your boss's) to full-blown fits, without losing your cool.

  • Take a few slow, deep, even breaths to relax.
  • Imagine yourself in an elevator at the top of a ten-story building. Breathe in deeply, then silently say the number ten as you let the air out.
  • Continue counting down from ten with each exhale as you mentally ride the elevator from the top floor of the building to the bottom. With each passing floor, feel yourself sinking deeper into relaxation.

Affirmative action
An upbeat attitude can lift your spirits and help you manage a tough situation, whether it's a rough day at the office, a frustrating traffic-filled trip as you rush to pick up the kids, or a fussy baby you can't seem to quiet.

  • First, pick one thing that causes repeated stress and decide how you'd like to behave in that situation.
  • Translate your feelings into a statement beginning with the words 'I can' or 'I am.' Keep it positive; avoid using the word 'not.' For example, you might say, 'I can be patient,' or 'I am creative,' or 'I can keep my cool at the mall today, no matter how crowded it is.
  • Silently repeat the statement whenever the problem arises. You might also try repeating it after doing some elevator breathing; a calm mind is especially receptive.

Instant vacation
Need a change of scenery? A monthlong trip to Tahiti would be really nice, but mentally transporting yourself to a new locale is a lot cheaper and easier to squeeze in between those five loads of laundry.

  • While the baby's napping or the kids are watching a video, shut the door and lie down on a bed or couch.
  • Close your eyes or wear a sleep mask, and put in earplugs to block out as much of the real world as possible.
  • Take a few deep breaths to relax.
  • Now, use each of your senses to imagine yourself relaxing in paradise. If you choose a beach scene, for instance, hear the soothing sound of the waves, taste the salt on the breeze, feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, smile at the cute waiter serving you that cold piña colada.

Spend a few minutes soaking up the tranquillity and you'll return from your fuss-free mini-vacation feeling refreshed and energized.

Whether it's a brisk walk around the block or a quick trip to a faraway land (if only in your mind!) these easy, no-fuss exercises will have you ready to take on almost anything -- or at least make it through the long holiday weekend with your in-laws!