Woman relaxing

Start 2011 stress-free with these mind- and body-saving tips. Photo: Getty

A hectic holiday season can leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed and completely run-down.

But taking time to restore and rejuvenate doesn't have to mean an expensive new gym membership, crash diet or steeply priced spa jaunt.

We spoke to leading physicians, trainers, and health and beauty experts to find the 10 easiest ways you can calm and center yourself right in the convenience of your own home, at little or no cost.

With these tips in tow, you'll feel refreshed, relaxed and perfectly primed to conquer all of those New Year's resolutions -- and actually keep them.

1. Set a bedtime. The biggest mistake people fall prey to while making New Year's resolutions is assuming that a complex new plan must be hatched, when simply returning to basics can have the strongest effect on both your health and energy levels. "Probably the best advice is to encourage people to get back to their normal routines, ASAP. Simple solutions like committing to eight hours sleep by giving yourself a bedtime makes a huge difference," says Dr. Susan S. Blum, MD, founder and director of the Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, N.Y.

Sleep is also scientifically proven to make you look more attractive to boot.

2. Cut sugar and alcohol. Revamping your diet doesn't mean you have to subsist on carrots and celery or miserably drink green sludge for days on end. Just cutting alcohol consumption and those sugar-filled treats that can morph into a daily habit during the holidays will allow your system to more effectively flush out the toxins that are making you feel groggy, bloated and fat.

"Sugar causes your blood sugar to go up and down, which puts stress on your adrenal glands to make cortisol to help balance it. Also, when your blood sugar drops, you get tired, and the adrenals pump out adrenalin for an energy boost. Your adrenals can eventually get tired of this work and become unable to respond. This is often why people become dependent on eating more sugar to keep them going. Alcohol acts like sugar in the body, and therefore does the same as above," explains Blum.

3. Rock out. Savoring some tunes on your iPod playlist or best-loved CD can relax your whole body, lighten your mood and refresh your brain so that you can catch a second wind. "Spending 10 minutes at the end of the day listening to your favorite music, and even allowing yourself to dance or move with it while cooking dinner, is a great stress buster," advises Blum.

Bubble Bath

Soak away your stress in a bubble bath. Photo: Getty

4. Bathe and breathe. Turn your bathtub into a haven by indulging in a favorite bubble bath or adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to warm water. While you're blissfully enjoying your soak, practice deep breathing.

"Most of us are shallow breathers and breathe into our chests instead of into our bellies. Deep breaths can be enormously helpful in reducing tension, anxiety and depression," says Teri Dourmaskin, who holds a health education Ph.D. from Columbia University and is founder of the all-natural La Vie Celeste skin-care line.

"Take a deep breath in, focusing on filling up the belly. Then exhale through your mouth. You can also add sound as you exhale with an 'ah.' In order to get the hang of it, you can practice first by lying down and placing a book on your stomach to ensure that you're breathing through your belly. The book should bob up and down with each inhale and exhalation," instructs Dourmaskin.

5. Laugh. It's not just sweet talk to say that laughter is the best medicine; catching a funny flick with friends or playing with a pet who makes you giggle are both ways to help your body produce more "feel good" chemicals, which are scientifically proven to make you both healthier and calmer. "Laughing can increase endorphin levels and other neurotransmitters. It helps reduce stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine -- which is adrenaline -- and dopamine. It may also increase the number of antibodies and T-cells, which may in turn boost the immune system," adds Dourmaskin.

6. Meditate. To instantly de-stress wherever you are -- even if it's a few minutes you catch in the car or train while running around -- simply close your eyes and repeat a soothing mantra in your mind that centers your thoughts.

"Some people may find meditation difficult because their minds wander too much. For them, I highly recommend Deepak Chopra's CD "The Soul of Healing Meditations." All you have to do is sit and listen. Deepak's words are incredibly powerful and the music is intoxicating," says Dourmaskin.

Facial Mask

Take time to pamper yourself with a DIY facial mask. Photo: Getty

7. Work it out. If you feel overburdened by stress, a sweat-inducing workout like kickboxing or the current martial-arts trend of Brazilian capoeira can not only work toxins out of your body, but leave you feeling lifted, too, says Brett Hoebel, celebrity trainer and creator of RevAbs DVDs.

If you're too tight on time or funds to seek out a class, both PBS and Fit TV run free workout broadcasts every day that you can do at home.

And if the stress is of the deeper emotional kind, you may benefit more from a calming stretch session or restorative yoga -- not to be confused with an intense vinyasa class, says Hoebel.

8. Mask and pamper. Taking time to indulge your skin will not only make you feel valued, but give you the glow that others see as a sign of vitality and wellness. Marina Valmy, director of Christina Valmy Skincare, shares two beauty recipes you can cook right up in your kitchen:


Exfoliation Enzyme Mask

1 teaspoon mashed papaya
1 cube pineapple or 1 1/2 teaspoon pineapple juice
1 teaspoon cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon finely ground sea salt

Blend all ingredients in a mixer, adding sea salt last. Apply to entire face, save for eyes, using a mask or foundation brush for even application. Leave on for 3 to 5 minutes before rinsing. The mask gently removes dead cells without irritating, leaving skin velvety smooth. Follow with your favorite moisturizer.


Eye Puffiness Reduction Mask

2 tablespoons grated raw potato
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon grated broccoli

Blend potatoes with instant coffee in a mixer. Add broccoli and blend until homogenized in texture. Apply under eyes and leave for 20 to 30 minutes, removing with cotton pads and water. Coffee increases blood circulation for better oxygenation, and potato enzymes extract toxins. Broccoli is rich in vitamin K, which counteracts the appearance of skin darkness and bruising.

Yoga

Om! Unwind with a simple yoga pose. Photo: Getty

9. Twist and calm. A simple yoga stretch that anyone can do is a great way to refresh both mind and body in a few minutes flat. "Twists help to release toxins and create an intention to breathe deeper into the muscles along the rib cage," says educational kinesiologist and yoga expert Candace Morano, a Licensed Master Social Worker.

Lie on your back on soft carpeting or a yoga mat, and bring your knees to the chest and over to your right. Look with your head in the opposite direction and feel your center extend away from the side as you twist. Inhale again, and switch to the other side, exhaling your knees down to the left and head in the other direction. Hold for several moments on each side as you breathe deeply. While twisting, think of releasing an old habit or thought that no longer serves you, instructs Morano.

10. Clean out. You know how sweeping out clutter can make you sigh with relief and breathe in with new energy? It's not just your imagination -- making physical room for something fresh can also clear your mind of negative thoughts and the debris of stress, and make you feel ready to take on the world. "Consider cleaning out a closet, drawer or area in your home to clear space to bring in the new. Envision how you would like it to look. Let go of objects or clothes that carry an old energy that you feel you no longer resonate," says Morano.

Now that you're all set to ring in the New Year with your healthier self, you may want to consider adding naturally raw products to your beauty routine.