My morning routine, if you can even call it that, is pretty deranged. I task my early-riser husband with waking me, then proceed to growl at him and fall back asleep until I've got too little time to check e-mails, work out (ha!), pack my lunch and leave. Any day when I don't show up to the office 20 minutes late with mascara smeared down to my chin is a surprising and welcome gift.
But according to the experts, people like me do ourselves a real disservice by not establishing an a.m. routine -- and with just a few tweaks, it's possible to have our mornings unfold as a series of thoughtful actions that steel us for what's to come -- not something we have to recover from. What we do before we think our days have really begun in earnest matters, and it can matter in a good way. Here's how to make that happen:
1. Try an affirmation.
It may sound a little out there, but studies back the idea that regular, positive affirmations can help combat stress and boost problem-solving skills. Or, as Gabrielle Bernstein, author of "Miracles Now" (and a frequent HuffPost blogger) put it: "an affirmation a day will keep a bad mood away."
If you're not sure where to start, try something straightforward. "I choose to have a great day," is a good one, Bernstein said, or something along the lines of, "I choose to release the frustration I have around my boss." Both are simple and action-oriented.
2. While primping, focus on your breathing.
Again, studies bear out that mindfulness meditation -- a spiritual practice that's become increasingly mainstream -- can lessen stress and anxiety, but finding time to do it is tough. Bernstein recommends using whatever your version of primping is as a chance to pay attention to your breath. While you're putting on makeup, or brushing your teeth or hair, breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, then release for five seconds, Bernstein said. It's a good chance to "check-in on your anxiety levels," and to "tap back into the breath," she added.
3. Time yourself ...
As in get out the ol' stopwatch app and track how long it takes you to get your duff out the door, from the minute you open your eyes. "As humans, we have a tendency to underestimate the length of time it takes us to complete tasks," said Erin Doland, editor-in-chief of Unclutterer.com, a site dedicated solely to home and office organization. A former coworker of Doland's once swore it took her 20 minutes to commute to work, but after tracking herself for three weeks, she realized that only happened once. Most days, it took her closer to 35 minutes.
4. ... Then give yourself an extra 15.
Minutes, that is. Once you've got a more realistic sense of how long it takes you to get going, promptly cut yourself some slack by adding an additional 15 minutes of padding into your getting-ready routine. Doland sees far too many people make the mistake of giving themselves no wiggle room, then having to fly -- frantically -- through their mornings. Scheduling in just 15 extra minutes "lowers your stress levels, allows time for handling the unexpected, and gives you the opportunity to get a bit of nourishment," she said.
And Doland is not advocating that you give up any precious ZZZs: For every 15 minutes that you bump up your wake time, tack on an extra 30 minutes of sleep the night before. Relatively subtle nudges in both directions can make a big difference in how calm you feel when you walk out the door.
5. Listen to a happy mix.
Or, as Bernstein likes to call it, a "positive perception playlist." Put together whatever music it is that makes you feel really upbeat, music snobs be damned, then play it while you're taking your morning shower, brewing coffee or commuting. Listening to songs that make you smile immediately puts you in a more cheerful frame of mind ... which makes you more likely to smile at people ... which sets off a chain reaction of positivity.
6. Pack ahead.
Ugh, this one. It's so unappealing to think about the next morning after a long day, when you finally have five blissful moments of peace before you pass out in your jeans. But Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, makes a strong case for night-before preparation. "Pack your lunch, and possibly even your breakfast, the night before," she urged -- you'll save time, money and calories. "You don't end up saying, 'Oh well, I'll just pick something up on the way to work, or while running errands' (and end up with not-so-healthy choices). Planning outsmarts our impulsive brain."
Researchers argue that morning exercise can help improve energy and productivity, but if that's just simply not you, you can still reap some benefits from just a few minutes of stretching. For example, Bernstein said she often does leg lifts while waiting for her tea to boil. "Getting energy flowing physically will help set you up," she said. And you don't even have to put your sports bra on.