Visit the rainforest ' or a desert ' for a change of season
Various studies have found there's a definite psychological uplift in humans when they're in gardens, so in the deep heart of the winter ' snow or not ' soak up the flora at Olbrich Gardens or the Mitchell Park domes in Milwaukee. Olbrich's Bolz Conservatory (3330 Atwood Ave., 246-4550) mimics a rainforest, with temps kept between 65F and 80F and the humidity at 60%. Birds, goldfish and koi, and even some geckoes, can be spotted among the plants. Or sign up for a special greenhouse tour on Feb. 3. At Mitchell Park (524 S. Layton Blvd., Milwaukee; 414-649-9800; open daily 9 am-5 pm; $3.50/$5), you can tour the tropics and the desert. The arid dome features succulents and cacti from Africa, South and North America, the Canary Islands and one of the U.S.'s largest collections of plants from Madagascar.
Chop some wood
Trainers at fitness clubs sometimes suggest an exercise that mimics the motion of chopping wood, and there's a yoga posture named after wood chopping, too. But actually chopping wood has even more benefits than pretending to. Obviously, when done, you have a pile of wood. You could wax poetic about how the process psychically connects us to our ancestors, but even more important, it's a useful skill. And as a conditioning exercise, it strengthens the arms, hands and abdominals.
Soak in the tub ' in Epsom salts
Epsom salts are one of those old-timey remedies that actually work. The easiest way to use Epsom salts is to soak in them ' the mineral compound (magnesium sulfate) can ease aches and pains, soften skin and even aid in exfoliation. Magnesium is absorbed through the skin; adding magnesium to the body is thought to relieve stress, boost energy and lower blood pressure. It's also said to aid enzymes that convert carbohydrates, proteins and fats to energy. And what could be easier than soaking in the tub? And buying a box or bag of Epsom salts (about $1.60 for a one-pound carton) is a lot cheaper than a milk bath. Check the instructions on the container, but generally two cups per bathtub is good for a 15-minute soak. To exfoliate, mix the salts with Vasoline or even use them plain as a scrub after a shower.
Take a retreat
Whether you rent a room in a bed-and-breakfast or go to a retreat center, getting away from your day-to-day without dealing with the stress of traveling far from home can aid in relaxation, rejuvenation and reflection. The Holy Wisdom Monastery (formerly St. Benedict Center) on Hwy. M in the town of Westport offers low-cost personal retreats both within the monastery and small 'hermitages' on the grounds; call 608-831-9304 or see www.benedictinewomen. org/retreats.htm for more information.
Some bed-and-breakfasts cater to the single person looking for retreat space. At the Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association Web site (www.wbba. org), you can search for B&Bs according to various criteria; pick 'secluded setting,' 'extended stay' and 'retreat' (and add whatever other variables you want, from fireplaces to Wi-Fi service).
Eat a handful of almonds a day
Almonds contain a good amount of fiber (second only to the peanut, among the nuts), calcium, and mono-unsaturated ('good') fat. They also contain vitamin E, magnesium and antioxidants 'in levels comparable to those of healthy foods such as broccoli and tea,' according to a study published last year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Nut consumption may also actually help consumers avoid diabetes, and the almond is the most nutrient-dense of the nuts. The USDA suggests eating 'about 23' almonds a day, approximately one ounce.
Find nice ways to say 'no,' but don't be afraid to say 'yes' to what you really want to do
If you need more time for you, someone else may have to get by with less of you.
Study the list of 20 diplomatic ways to say no at www.onlineorganizing.com/ExpertAdviceToolbox.asp (scroll down to 'Making the Most of Your Time'). If you're too used to saying 'Yeah, okay,' commit some of these phrases to memory, like the ultra-useful 'I would rather decline than do a mediocre job.'
Still, make time to do things with friends and keep a social network to lean on in times of trouble. Good friends are counted as stress reducers in an overall assessment of your health and well-being.