De-Stress Your Mornings (Really!)

Ease into your day with a few simple routines that just might make your afternoon and evening feel like a piece of cake too.

Take a break from the usual frenzied mornings (we know you understand what we’re talking about) and get into the habit of doing a few small things to help you start the day on a good note. We’re willing to bet that you’ll find these tiny shifts in your morning routine will spill over to your entire day, making all the challenges that inevitably greet you at work or school much easier to face. Skeptical? Try it for a week and tell us how things turn out in the comments section.

Stop setting an alarm. Being jolted awake triggers an adrenaline surge that immediately elevates your stress level. Seriously, the word “alarm” basically says “emergency,” which is no way to wake up. Instead program your smartphone or tablet to gently pull you back to consciousness with a favorite soft song or soothing ringtone.

Wake up 15 minutes earlier. Note that we didn’t say get out of bed earlier. Rather than denying you precious extra sleep, this strategy allows you to linger in bed—an indulgence most of us rarely permit ourselves. “Before I get out of bed, I like to meditate for a few minutes, either by focusing on my breath or listing things I’m grateful for,” says Mary Bolster, an editor with a two-hour daily commute into New York City.

Cuddle. If you’re lucky enough to have a loved one next to you, hold hands or hug before getting up. Researcher Karen Grewen, PhD, says such “positive contact and feelings of closeness may reduce the negative effects of life’s inevitable hassles.”

Do mattress yoga. Get the blood moving by kicking off the covers and rolling onto your back. Slide your heels toward your hips until the soles of both feet are fully on the bed with your knees pointing up. Stretch your arms into a T-position and slowly swing both legs from side to side, as if they are a set of windshield wipers. You’ll feel a nice stretch in your lower back. Continue for as long as you like, then draw both knees into your chest and hug yourself like you mean it. Gentle movements like these can help lower blood pressure and stress levels while at the same time promote a greater sense of well-being.

Exercise for two to five minutes. You don’t have to squeeze in a big morning workout to enjoy the mood-boosting benefits of exercise. As little as 120 seconds of any heart rate–raising movement (squats, jumping jacks, push-ups) floods your brain with natural antidepressants.

Eat some oatmeal. The ultimate a.m. comfort food, oatmeal stimulates the release of feel-good serotonin, which helps keep stress in check. Plus, the fiber it contains will keep you feeling satisfied until lunch.

Talk while you commute. To yourself, that is. Think objectively about the challenges in the day ahead (like a one-on-one with the boss) and practice aloud what you’ll say. Preparation and rehearsing a positive outcome will help you be calmer during the real thing.

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