Monthlong Wellness Challenge
Day 1: Sleep In
For moms, getting enough shut-eye is about as rare as your kids unloading the dishwasher without being asked. But regularly indulging in an extra 60 to 90 minutes of zzz's (for a total of 8 hours or more a night) can improve your concentration and boost your immunity, according to research from the American Psychological Association. Enjoy this break from the daily grind and give yourself the gift of a later start.
Day 2: Trim Your Wardrobe
"Staring at clothes in your closet that no longer fit can make getting dressed an emotional battle each morning," says professional organizer Julie Morgenstern, author of Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life. Her suggestion: Send too-small items to Goodwill or store them in a suitcase. If you lose weight, welcome an outfit back from your luggage. If not, you won't have to be reminded of your weight-loss failures every time you open your closet.
Day 3: Get Tuneful
"To ease that hectic evening juggle, I play music while making dinner," says Melissa Cohen, a psychotherapist specializing in relationship and parenting issues. "It's not about what has to get done; it's about how you feel while doing it—and music makes you feel good." Try Spotify.com's Mood Booster channel, which Cohen swears by to lower tension and up energy.
Day 4: Extra Cheese, Please
Hit a photo booth and strike a smile—for all four shots. Or take a series of selfies. Flashing your pearlies (even if you don't feel like it) makes you happier and reduces heart rate, according to research. "A smile physiologically tells our brains that we are safe and can relax," explains Mary Marcdante, author of Living with Enthusiasm: How the 21-Day Smile Diet Can Change Your Life. "The longer you hold it, the more happy endorphin you release."
Day 5: High Five
Quick: Spend just five minutes doing something indulgent. Give yourself a mani, read your horoscope or sit in the sun and soak it in. No matter how manic this day is, you can carve out a few seconds of peace.
Day 6: Take a Leap
"Jumping on a trampoline for a mere two or three minutes a day can reduce stress and help blood flow," says Shilpi Agarwal, M.D., a family and integrative medicine physician based in Los Angeles. Not to mention it's just plain fun. If your kids don't have a mini trampoline inside or a big one outside, jumping jacks also do the trick.
Day 7: Rinse Your Cares Away
Negative thoughts and anxiety can actually weaken your immune system. Stay strong with some smart thinking in the shower. "While you wash up, focus on positive things in your life and imagine all your negativity running down the drain," suggests Diane Lang, author of Creating Balance and Finding Happiness. You'll step onto that bath mat feeling refreshed inside and out.
Day 8: Book "Me Time"
Our calendars are filled with things we have to do. So be sure to carve out time for one thing you want to do today—ride your bike, read a chapter in a juicy new book. "Mark your 'me time' as an appointment and hold it sacred," advises Cohen.
Day 9: Bottoms Up
You probably saw this one coming. Well, go ahead and indulge—but in moderation. The American Heart Association gives you the all-clear to one glass of alcohol a day. Cheers to that.
Day 10: Work Your Nerves
Find an aroma that relaxes you, close your eyes and take a deep breath. That vanilla-scented candle or lavender hand lotion can trigger happy feelings. "The olfactory nerve, which controls your sense of smell, is wired to the part of your brain that is in charge of heart rate, breathing, memory and hormone balance," says Cohen. For a lift, choose an energizing scent like citrus.
Day 11: Take a Time-Out
On an emotionally tough anniversary find a moment for inner calm. Research from the University of Miami found that just 12 minutes of mindful mediation daily can relax you, improve memory and boost attention. Sit in a comfy spot (eyes open), focus on your breath and stay in the present moment without judging you thoughts. If you need to multitask, check out the Buddhify 2 app (iOS, $3), which offers guided meditations for any situation—on a train, at work and even while online.
Day 12: Talk to Yourself
"Think up an affirmation to start your day and wire your brain for the positive," says Lang. "Mine is, 'I'm healthy, whole and complete.' Other options: "We may not have it all together, but together we have it all" or "Today I will make magic happen."
Day 13: Be a Kid Again
"Adults forget how to play and have fun because we think it's frivolous," says Patricia Farrell, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of It's Not All in Your Head. "But having fun is one of the most important things you can do for your well-being." Hold a Twister game night even if it seems silly, or challenge your spouse to a dance-off on your Wii. It will trigger feel-good hormones.
Day 14: Do You Swear?
Even if it's buying an activity tracker to help you lose those last 10 pounds or booking a doctor's appointment because you're worried about your overactive bladder, "make a promise to prioritize your well-being today," says Steven Lamm, M.D., a New York City–based internist. Then get accountable by jotting it down or posting it online at a site like MyHealthy.com, which encourages making small commitments for big health changes.
Day 15: Nix Negative Thoughts
Stop stress from seeping into all your activities by "bracketing" distracting ideas, suggests Cohen. Say you're helping your daughter with her homework and find yourself obsessing about your boss's latest annoying comment. Just tell yourself "Not now," and save the thoughts for later. You can occasionally dwell on life's problems, but the idea is to avoid letting irritating issues consume every moment of your life.
Day 16: Fight Fair
Whether you're arguing with your spouse or the checkout person at the grocery store, it pays to be nice—for the sake of your health. A study found that the physical wounds of people who were nastier during discussions healed more slowly than those of people who were less hostile.
Day 17: Make a Coffee Date
Researchers from Brigham Young University analyzed nearly 150 studies and found that a lack of ties to loved ones and friends can have negative health effects comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. So book that get-together today!
Day 18: Gleek Out
Singing, especially in a group, reduces anxiety, perhaps because it releases endorphins and oxytocin in the body (both feel-good chemicals). Too old for glee club? Tune into The Voice and belt it out with your kids.
Day 19: Press Pause
Whole-grain waffles for breakfast again? Still doing that same workout DVD? "Too much of any good thing makes you feel saturated, so you won't get the same results you used to enjoy," says Bob Sullivan, co-author of Getting Unstuck: Break Free of the Plateau Effect. Take a break from your routine before you grow to hate it. That way you can return to your standby with fresh energy.
Day 20: Spike Your Yogurt
Move over, warm milk. "Mixing a tablespoon of tart cherry juice into your Greek yogurt or a smoothie can reset your internal clock and improve your sleep," say Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., and Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., co-authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. New research from Louisiana State University shows that the melatonin and tryptophan in tart cherries can ease insomnia in older adults. Try it out for a great night's rest.
Day 21: Stop Pushing Yourself
"Any time you have a few spare minutes and think, 'I can squeeze in one more thing,' give yourself permission not to," says Cohen. Slow down instead of trying to cram more into your packed schedule. "If you rush through the day, you're essentially creating your own drama, which fuels anxiety," adds Cohen.
Day 22: Take a Baby Step
It's easy to put off starting something new—like that home improvement project or that online course you want to take—if you think you need to have it all figured out in advance. "Instead, just take the first step, which is often the hardest one," says Sullivan. You may be surprised by how natural and good it feels to keep on going once you get in the flow.
Day 23: Frame Your Joy
Find pictures of yourself in moments of achievement, like at the sweaty-but-happy finish line of that 5K you ran, says Laura Posada, certified life coach and co-author of Fit Home Team. Put them in a collage or queue them up into a slideshow so you can gaze at them whenever you're having a bad day. "The photos will remind you of all you've accomplished and what a strong person you are," she says.
Day 24: Spice Things Up
Boost the flavor of your food (and your health) with turmeric, black pepper, ginger, garlic, rosemary, chiles or cinnamon. William Sears, M.D., author of more than 40 books, including Astaxanthin: Seafood's Ultimate Supernutrient, says these zesty and invigorating ingredients have disease-fighting anti-inflammatory effects. So savor the seasoning today.
Day 25: Speak Your Mind
"Don't let fear of failure prevent you from speaking up in a meeting or at home" says Sullivan. "Sharing ideas before they're fully formed is part of brainstorming, which lights up the creative parts of our brain and releases endorphins." Whether you want to think through a new sales initiative or a new date-night plan, enjoy that satisfying creative rush.
Day 26: Take a Dance Break
Fear not: This isn't about perfecting the tango or working up a Zumba-induced sweat. "Fluid, joyful movement sends a message to your brain that you're having a great time," says psychotherapist Cohen. And, she adds, moving your body in new ways breaks down old patterns, which gives your brain a workout. It's also hard to feel sad when you're shakin' it.
Day 27: Veg Out
"Moms get up and go every day, so don't put pressure on yourself to leave the house to have fun," says Posada. If staying home and binge- watching House of Cards (maybe cuddled up with your spouse) will relax and replenish you, go for it. "It's often the simplest, easiest things that can make you the most happy.
Day 28: Snack Smart
Whether fresh, frozen or dried, make blueberries your sweet and nutritious treat today. "Blueberries have a very high antioxidant capacity," says Paula Bickford, Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery at the University of South Florida and researcher at James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa. "The chemicals in blueberries scavenge free radicals and make cells more resilient to stress, which means the body and brain will be more resistant to decline and disease."
Day 29: Pinky Up
"Tea is not only warm and soothing; it also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which has been shown to trigger mental calmness and alertness," say Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins. Sip a blend like Celestial Seasonings Peach Blossom Green Tea to enjoy a peaceful boost.
Day 30: "There is a lot of joy when you give to others," says Posada. "But you haven't really lived until you do something for someone who can't repay you." Shell out the toll for the car behind you, offer a "care kit" of travel-size hygiene supplies to a homeless person or use the ButterflyEffect app (iOS, free) to anonymously send out good wishes or notes of gratitude to other users.