When I’m stuck working late, I sometimes obsess over not being home to cook dinner or to let my two dogs, Ruben and Lucy, outside. Then I think, What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I’ll have to spend money on takeout, or there will be a mess to clean up. My anxiety dissipates when I see that my worst-case scenario is undesirable but not the end of the world.
You never know what’s coming next. But if you assume that unexpected events will occur, you’ll be in a better position to take pleasure in good surprises and be prepared for bad ones. For example, I try to leave some free time in my week. If a friend is in town unexpectedly, I can make time for coffee. And when I can, I leave a little extra money in my account so that an emergency won’t break the bank.
Quitting. In 2011 my friends and my younger sister convinced me to sign up with them for a triathlon. I had done this kind of race before and enjoyed the challenge, but this time I wasn’t as motivated to train and became very unhappy. So after six weeks, I dropped out of the race, and my life went back to normal. People often view quitting as a failure, but it can be essential to maintaining your sanity and happiness.
Lucinda Anne Coffin
Oswego, New York
After my three kids were born, I was so caught up in being a stay-at-home mom that I neglected everything that fell outside that role. Last year I vowed to make time for my hobbies, not just my responsibilities, which prompted me to audition for a local theater production of Les Misérables. And guess what? I landed a part!
It’s simple: Get a good night’s sleep. In this day and age, we forfeit shut-eye in favor of staying up late to get work accomplished. I believe that well-rested people are more productive and, honestly, a lot nicer to be around.
Akwesasne, New York
Ask your family for help. My husband lends a hand with housework, my father is a fill-in babysitter when the nanny calls in sick, and my sister cooks for my kids if I’m exhausted. It truly takes a village to have any semblance of balance—well, a village and a smartphone.
Incorporate some fun into dreaded tasks. For example, I used to hate dragging my 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son out of bed in the morning. So instead of getting frustrated, I've started playing “tickle monster” until they laugh themselves awake. It helps to find the joy in duties that otherwise would be draining.
After years of resenting a number of people for past grievances, I resolved to forgive others before I permanently became a bitter person. Now, instead of allowing negative emotions to build up, I let them go. As a result, I feel more at peace every day.
Spend as much time outside as you do inside. I don’t feel guilty browsing Pinterest while my kids watch PBS in the afternoon as long as the family played outside all morning. A dose of fresh air instantly brings me serenity.
West Chester, Pennsylvania
While good habits are vital to a healthy life, it’s OK to indulge in something that is “bad” for you now and then. At the end of a stressful month, one afternoon spent eating ice cream and watching Toddlers and Tiaras or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo makes my world feel right again.
San Jose, California
If you ever work at home, do it in a designated space that’s separate from your normal living area. Don’t let papers spill into other rooms, and try to limit checking work e-mails outside of your home office. It’s an easy way to keep most of your house stress-free.
Kim Alison Hazel
Silver Spring, Maryland
If I sense that my life is out of whack, I ask myself three questions: “What am I doing for myself?” “What am I doing for my loved ones?” and “What am I doing for the world?” My answers make it easier to see when I am sacrificing one area for another (for example, meeting volunteer obligations at the expense of “me” time). Then I can readjust properly.
Carol J. Levenberg
Highland Park, Illinois
Offer your assistance. For the past 18 years, I’ve donated my time to a hospital, where I greet new patients and train junior volunteers. After witnessing the challenges that others face, I’ve gained some perspective on my own life.