Health and happiness may be the foundations for a good life, but factor in today’s life realities – relationships, money, parenting, schools, in-laws, career, commuting, competition – and being happy seems a utopian dream, something to postpone for the “future”.But this is no longer an option; not when strain and fatigue are telling on your everyday life; on your productivity and your mood. It’s happening to every single one of us. As we navigate difficult personal and professional terrain, keeping our physical and emotional balance has become trickier than ever. We argue more, cry more and stress more. We’re more anxious, irritable and short-tempered. And we often feel like we aren’t doing things that we should; things for which we no longer have the energy.There are no easy solutions to life’s big issues, and we do not claim to have them for you. What we do have, instead, is a tangible plan to transform your stressed-out life and make you feel like you’re in control again. We have culled out proven research, tested tips and expertise of professionals to put together this nine-month plan to help you feel less drained, relaxed and more upbeat. Before you start, ensure you go through the various medical tests that are critical prior to embarking on a new physical routine or changes in diet. Then, make a commitment to yourself to start this focussed plan – and experience a new you!The Health PlanApril: For Mind & BodyTake one afternoon “off” every two weeksadvertisementWhether you have a job or are a stayat-home wife and mother, it’s unlikely you take any time – relaxed, guilt-free, uninterrupted – just for yourself in an average week. Even waking up slightlylater-than-usual on a weekend is often instantly accompanied by a long list of chores, entertaining, grocery shopping, meeting family or ferrying the children to and from classes. Research proves, however, that taking a few hours off for yourself isn’t a selfish move, it’s a critical investment for your sanity and peace, and thereby your family’s wellbeing.Once a fortnight rexal – on a working weekday or on a Saturday if you are office bound – negotiate one afternoon completely for yourself.Pre-fix with a relative, a neighbour or a friend to take care of your child; order a meal in for dinner that night instead of cooking. Make this time nonnegotiable – let your husband, child or parent adjust their schedule around your needs on this one day, instead of the other way around.Use this time purely to unwind – picking up clothes from the tailor or visiting a sick relative don’t count, they’re still errands. This time is for pure leisure – reading at a caf (or in a quiet corner of your home if you can ensure you’ll be left alone), watching a movie with a friend, browsing a gallery, getting a pedicure and a head massage, or just sleeping the afternoon away in your bedroom.Not used to doing leisure things alone? Start by including a friend in your plans if you’re wary of going to a caf or mall alone. Set a ground rule: talking shop (by which we mean about children, husband, home, in-laws, job and boss) are off limits. Feel free to gossip about friends or celebrities or television, though!Don’t make excuses – the more hectic your life, the more urgent your need for this personal time. Make it as much a priority and as immovable on your calendar as your child’s PTA meetings or your pet’s vaccines.May: For your BodyFactor 5 superfoods into your meal plansNutritional research seems to throw up new findings daily, but if they have been consistent on one thing, it is that the fibre and iron content of your food is directly related to your mood and energy levels. ‘Foods can really “up” your energy in three ways: by providing the body with sufficient calories, by delivering stimulants such as caffeine (in limited quantities, good for a shortterm energy boost), and by pushing the metabolism to burn fat more efficiently. As for mood, the best foods are those that stabilise blood sugar and trigger the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin,’ says an authentic online medical source, www.webmd.com. Make these five superfoods central to your diet for a sustained boost in your energy levels.Iron Include iron-rich foods such as spinach, tofu, lentils and soyabeans in your diet. Lack of iron deprives cells of adequate oxygen, and slows down the burning of carbs, making you feel tired with minimal activity. Women need about 33mg daily till their menopause, says Dr Kavita Khiara, a Mumbai-based nutritionist. For non-vegetarians, a weekly steak – yes, red meat – should definitely find a place on your meal plan. Vegetarians must add a daily Vitamin C pill to their schedule; iron found in vegetables is much harder to absorb by the body, and Vitamin C aids in its absorption.advertisementCarbohydrates A drastic cut of carbs from your diet will play havoc both on your energy levels and mood, as well as weight – the body’s preferred source of fuel. Carbs also raise the serotonin levels, which means they help cope with stress. Keep off all sweets, and pick wholegrains instead.Dahi (curd) This magnesium-rich superfood activates enzymes that are important for protein and carbohydrate metabolism. Probiotic dahi keeps your digestive system clean, which helps your body absorb nutrients from food better. End result: more energy!Oatmeal ‘It’s your best friend for breakfast, especially when it is eaten with skimmed milk instead of water, and topped with any kind of berries you can find,’ says Dr Khiara. It is packed with fibre, calcium, iron and Vitamin A and will keep you satiated for long, thereby aiding weight loss.Fresh produce: Fresh fruit and vegetables, especially those with high water content (watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes and leafy vegetables), prevent dehydration, a major cause of fatigue and chronic exhaustion. Drink enough water – the eight-glasses-a-day rule is acceptable, but if you have a high-salt or high-sodium diet, sweat a lot, or don’t eat enough water-rich foods, then up your intake. Just spread it out across the day rather than in short bursts.June: For Mind & SoulThrow out the “energy vampire” from your lifeWe all know at least one person who drags us down whenever we see them or speak to them; someone who brings stress and emotional upheaval into your life; unpleasant people who seem to cause an intangible strain any time they’re around. Often, these “energy vampires” aren’t even particularly significant to us; yet they manage to cause a lot of angst in our lives. Consciously think over who this person or people are; it could be a friend, a co-worker, a neighbour. Make an effort to minimise contact, so that they’re not always piling their negative emotions onto you. Do not waste your time trying to change them – this only puts more pressure on you.Keep calls with them to less than five minutes; time yourself if needed.Avoid meeting them when you are alone; if other people are around, you are spared the solo assault.Make another friend/family member part of your support group; they can help deal with this person and take some pressure off you.Cut off as much contact as possible: and do not feel guilty about it. Distance yourself from such people whose behaviour does you harm; if you cannot change them, there is no need to join them.advertisementJuly: For your BodyPlay a game you’ve never played beforeThe last time you got on a cycle or played table tennis may have been over two decades ago or, worse, never. Make this your month to start! ‘Doing something new is always stimulating; when it’s physical, it has the additional impact of releasing feelgood endorphins, with the likely bonus of weight-loss,’ says Delhi-based fitness trainer Kiran Sawhney.Find a partner, a like-minded friend or neighbour or, even better, your husband. Choose a game that doesn’t require fancy equipment or facilities – logistics shouldn’t become a challenge here, otherwise it defeats the feel-good purpose. Table tennis and badminton are good games to start with; cycling is another such activity. ‘I’ve been playing table tennis with my husband every week for the past two months,’ says 35-year-old Delhibased homemaker Ruchika Sharma, ‘and it’s amazing how wonderful I feel. The exercise makes me happy, and we are having so much fun together. Last week, we even played a couples’ game against our neighbours, and it had us charged up. It’s become a high-point for us!’Fix a half-hour date with your partner twice a week, and before you know it, you’ll be addicted to the rush of energy and positivity from the simple switch in your schedule.At month’s end: You totally dislike your new game? Switch to a different one the next month. Can’t manage anything physical? Go with scrabble or chess instead; you’ll still reap benefits from the excitement and competitiveness.August: For Body & SoulLaugh more and stay happy and healthyThis month, try to focus on factoring in things, people and activities that make you laugh or, at least, smile. It sounds almost too obvious; we all like things that make us happy: why should they need scheduling? But too often, we don’t make the time for the small things that can up our feel-good quotient: a funny film, a daily comic strip, a standup comedy act or a humorous writer. Slot one activity a week which you know you’ll have a light-hearted, good time doing.Rent DVDs of comedies and watch them together on Friday nights to set the tone for the weekend to come; a lot of these are family movies, so you can make this into laugh-together time. If the feelgood factor of laughter isn’t enough to convince you by itself, here is a more compelling reason: some researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, US, have recently made the incredible discovery that laughter is linked to the healthy functioning of blood vessels. People who laugh more live healthier lives, and are in fact more productive, says the study.At month’s end: Try a new route to humour yourself. Hunt online sites for stand-up comic acts in your city – this genre is new but is fast becoming very popular – so as a surprise, buy tickets for your husband and yourself. You may just discover a novel way to laugh together!September: For Mind & BodyMake your bedroom a low-stress zoneIt has been said often enough but somehow we are unable to limit the use of the bedroom to what it was originally meant for: to sleep, relax and unwind. Researchers have repeatedly found that removing distraction, stressful or workled gadgets from the bedroom helps you unwind more, sleep better and turns it into a zone that signals peace. That means no computer or laptop, no TV, and no newspapers in the bedroom.Why does this matter? Because the effect of information overload on the mind is a well-researched phenomena. Groundbreaking writer and futurist Alvin Toffler warned us about it over 30 years ago in his bestselling book Future Shock. He argued that the human brain has finite limits on the information it can assimilate and cope with; going beyond that limit causes the brain to become overloaded, with eventual physical and mental disturbance.And then there’s the problem of “packaging”, especially on television news. ‘The media often sensationalises or exaggerates certain events without highlighting their rare nature,’ worries Boston-based psychologist Rati A Raichand. ‘For example, stories about airplane accidents, or abductions – the fact is that these are low-probability events. But the way they’re depicted causes huge amounts of anxiety in a viewer’s mind, especially when it comes to things that can affect their families.You can’t insulate yourself from it completely, but recognising that this is a problem for your peace of mind is a critical first step. It sounds hard to do, but limiting your information sources – especially in an area designed just for unwinding – pays off richly. Make leisure magazines, music and books your bedroom companions and you’ll find it easier to sleep; your bedroom will also become a physical escape from the stress of the daily routine. A scented bedside candle, and flowers make a tangible difference to how you feel.How-to tip: Cannot get rid of the TV in your bedroom? Take up the challenge of not using it for about two weeks and assess if your bedroom feels like a more restful space to you. Is this too extreme for you? Set a daily time deadline – say, 9.30pm – after which the TV gets switched off. Still not do-able? Avoid news or business channels; instead, old movies, music channels and sometimes even cartoons will keep your mood upbeat.October: For body & soulMeditate a little every daySkeptics the world over have found that there’s nothing hocus-pocus about meditation; neither does it have anything to do with religion. Rather, it is a route for calming yourself; to finding some peace within your current compulsions of space, relationships, lifestyle, career, children and more, instead of seeking an escape from them. It also physically relaxes the body, and puts the mind on an even keel.Meditation can be centered around a chant, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. The idea is to learn to empty your mind of all conscious thought. Pick any mantra that suits you. Don’t know any? The word “Om” has historically been used because it inspires peace.Fix a time and space to meditate; stick to it everyday. And while early morning has proved beneficial, don’t go against your grain when it comes to meditation: fighting to fit it in will not help.There’s no right or wrong way – you can sit on the floor, on a bed, staring at a wall, at an object that feels calming to you…It takes discipline and time to think about nothing; the first few weeks, don’t judge your results. Focus only on sticking to the habit for at least a month, starting with 5 minutes daily, pushing it up to 10 minutes in 2 to 3 weeks. Don’t make time the agenda – 5 minutes for months is fine if you can start to empty your mind of conscious thought for that duration.November: For Mind & BodySet yourself a small challenge every weekThere’s something fundamentally exciting about doing something you did not think you could – it could be as simple as trying a brand-new recipe, or wearing a new style of clothing or hair; or maybe more involved, such as learning a new form of dance or a sport (even a single session can be fun). Accomplishing new things brings a surge of positive energy and self-confidence; the bonus is it keeps people interested in you, since you constantly reveal new facets of your personality to them – and often, to yourself as well!Pick small challenges that you can switch around often, to keep your mind engaged. These aren’t meant to be “competitive” challenges – don’t try to outdo anyone else. Instead, savour the excitement of doing something new. You could try a dish from a completely different cuisine, such as Ethiopian or Moroccan, maybe. If you like music but don’t dare to sing, give karaoke a shot one night with friends! Don’t bother about staying in tune.December: For Mind & SoulDe-clutter your life. Now!We usually tend to do a lot of physical de-cluttering during festive times and at year’s end; this year, though, go beyond the physical purging of things and make it an emotional exercise as well. Anger, frustration, jealousy, irritation – these emotions build up over time and sap the mind and body of their positivity. In fact, according to Dr Matthew Burg, PhD, associate clinical professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, depression and negative emotions are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Dealing with these emotions, though, is far more challenging than tackling a purely physical medical condition. ‘It’s not like going to a patient and saying, “You have high cholesterol, and here’s the pill,”‘ he says.Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, US, discovered a surprising way to help individuals whose heart health suffered due to negative emotions: listening to their favourite music. At a simple level, the music brought them joy; at a medical level, doctors found that listening to their favourite music caused tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate, which increased blood flow and reduced blood pressure.Music may be a great cure, and may work preventively as well, but nothing is more important than tackling negative, health-eroding emotions that can cause you physical and emotional damage, without you even knowing it.Make a start here: list down situations, people and grudges that make you deeply unhappy.Systematically go down your list, and over the course of this month, deal with what depresses you; if your husband or best friend or sibling’s manner hurts or offends you, talk to them about it, calmly but firmly. Explain why it’s important to you to resolve and move on. Find other outlets – basically deal with it, end it.If there are people or situations you cannot change, work at yourself to let go of old grudges, things in the past that you’re holding on to. Don’t go back to the old issues.Allow yourself to be imperfect this one time: no-one puts as much pressure on women as we do ourselves, to be perfect mothers, wives, homemakers, employees, daughters, daughters-inlaw, friends, sisters? Accept that trying your best is the most anyone can ask of you. And raise a toast to yourself for all that you are, and all that you manage to do every single day!