For some of us, summer means lazy days at the beach, slathered in SPF 45 and engrossed in the latest Danielle Steel novel. For others – OK, most of us – summer means a continuation of our crazy-busy schedules, with the exception of an occasional weekend away.
If you fall into the latter category, as I suspect you do, it is possible to enjoy a stress-free summer, with the help of the following 10 tips.
-> 1. Kick cooking to the curve.
The secret to a fun and relaxing summer can actually be found in your freezer. That's right: a well-stocked freezer, filled to capacity with easy-to-prepare foods, can tie tons of summertime stress.
Here's how: Make a list of the foods you enjoy and see which ones can be made and frozen ahead of time. Then spend a day or two whipping up batches of your go-to favorites and store them in airtight containers in your freezer. Once the dog days of summer arrive, all you have to do is grab, thaw and microwave. What could be easier?
-> 2. Travel without emotional baggage.
If you're up for some traveling this season, planning ahead will help you to eliminate the usual Sturm und Drang of a summer vacation.
Research your destination and buy guidelines, maps and travel insurance in advance. If you're traveling abroad, make sure to exchange a small amount of cash for the local currency – at least for the cab ride from the airport to your hotel.
To prepare for airport security, leave bags unlocked; Keep film, valuables and allowable toilets in your carry-on. And, whenever possible, pack lightly. How many times have you gone on vacation with a vast and stylish wardrobe, only to wear the same pair of shorts every single day for a week?
-> 3. Dare to be different.
Summer is a chance for renewal – and I'm not talking about your library books. It's a chance to recharge your batteries and take stock of where you are in your life, and where you'd like to be.
Sure, a trip to the spa could help you to recharge and rewind, but how about stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new? Whether it's creative writing or tae kwon do, tap dancing or cake decorating, the point is to try something that you've never tried before and see how it fits. If you enjoy it, great: Keep going. If not, move on to the next thing, or maybe the next. Do not be afraid to experiment.
-> 4. Plan a do-nothing day.
Just as trying something new is a surefire way to recharge and renew, so is a day of out-and-out hedonism. For some of us, part and parcel of being hedonistic means doing absolutely nothing. No plans. No commitments. No obligations. Nada.
Of course, if doing nothing sounds too out-of-the-box for you, an alternative is to plan a few activities, with the implicit understanding that you will not try to cram too many things into your free-as-a- Bird schedule. That would be missing the point.
Some ideas: pack a picnic lunch, grab an absorbing book and head out to the park to while away the entire afternoon under a shady tree. Go to your favorite museum or art gallery and spend as much time as you'd like focusing on each painting or work of art. Or stay home with a stack of DVDs and zone out on the couch for as long as you please. And guess what? Having no schedule actually serves a purpose: it helps decrease stress – even if it is for one day, or just a few hours.
-> 5. Get organized.
If zoning out and doing nothing is not your cup of tea, you may choose to use your time engaged in a productive activity, such as organizing and de-cluttering your home or office.
Rather than waking up one day and declaring, "Today is the day I will clean my house!" (Um, nervous breakdown, anyone?), A simpler and far more effective approach is what I call the Chip-Away Method.
It works like this: Instead of walking into a room with the intention of transforming it into neat-as-a-pin perfection, think of "chipping away" at the mess.
Let's say you have a messy home office that seems too scary to deal with it. No problem! Begin with a bookcase or shelving unit and focus on the first shelf: clear off your stuff and place it on the floor. Now you have some executive decisions to make: Do you dump some stuff? File some papers? Delegate a project?
Whatever you do, take action. If you wait until later, you'll be waiting for Godot. Do it now. Wipe the shelf clean, replace your stuff and move on to the next shelf. And the next one, and the next … until – voila! – a clean office!
The Chip-Away Method works beautifully in your kitchen, bathroom, library or den – any room that needs organizing. Once you're done, you can stand back and admire your hard work. And boy, does it feel good!
-> 6. Play catch up.
Along the same lines, summer is a great time to catch up on all the stuff you did not get a chance to do during the rest of the year. Stuff like putting photos into albums; Working on a scrapbook; Organizing your sock draw; Dumping long-expired food items from your kitchen shelves and freezer; Cleaning your closet; Throwing useless papers and coupons. You get the idea.
Use the Chip-Away Method, as above, to help tackle these projects. That way, they will not seem as off-putting – or as scary. Then, when fall comes, you'll be all set, and stress-free.
-> 7. Turn your trash into cash.
Once you've gone through your closets and cleaned out your drawers, you may discover that your junk could be someone else's treasure. And, better yet, you can make a profit from it!
Here's how: Take your unwanted stuff and have a yard or apartment sale with it. (Get your kids in on the act by having them set up a lemonade stand.) Or, take your stuff to a consignment shop, sell it on eBay or donate it for the tax deduction. Put the extra cash into a savings account, and watch your money grow.
-> 8. Be skin smart.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, with more than a million new cases diagnosed every year. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. That's why protecting yourself from the sun is essential.
Here, some helpful tips from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
– Seek between 10 AM and 4 PM
– Do not burn.
– Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
– Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, applying 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours.
– Cover up with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
– Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
– Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
– See your physician or dermatologist for a yearly skin exam.
-> 9. Schedule some "me-time."
Getting stuff done is great, but do not forget that you also need time for yourself. Although this is not always possible – especially if you have a hectic schedule and family members vying for your attention – there are ways around this obstacle.
Set your alarm if you must, but take time each day to stop everything and do a little something for yourself – anything from diving into a juicy novel to getting a manicure. Even if it's just sitting quietly by yourself for 10 minutes, reflecting on your day, you'll be amazed at how good and centered you feel. Try it and see.
-> 10. Try to stay RESTED
This nifty acronym – RESTED – created by certified professional organizer Eileen Stevie, of Stevie Organizing Services, in Cary, North Carolina, is in keeping with enjoying a stress-free summer:
R: Relationships – maintain special relationships with family and friends.
E: Exercise – stay healthy with a daily exercise program.
S: Simplify – think about reducing the amount of stuff in your life.
T: Time Alone – find quiet time to think clearly.
E: Eliminate – what you do not enjoy doing.
D: Diet – eat balanced, nutritious meals to stay healthy.
And there you have it: a RESTED summer. Enjoy!