21 days to a new you: Stress less

So this is going to be the year! You've made the decision to quit smoking, We all know stress is not our friend. Excess stress causes hormonal imbalances, can add unhealthy fat around the waist, and can make us lapse into bad habits like excessive drinking, smoking, and scarfing junk food to copeand that's a big step.
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Now, stress is a given in our daily lives — always tasked with balancing family, work, friends, finances. But if we can reduce our own reactions to external stresses, and become calmer and more focused, the daily irritants of life can just wash right over us. We can't change what happens outside us, but there's plenty we can do to change ourselves! Here are some great ways to reduce stress.

By Anne Hurley for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 23 Working man (Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Day 1: Make a workout plan

Nothing helps reduce stress like exercise. So today, make a plan for the month and then stick to it. Push away those thoughts of, "But I don't have time!" because you know you can find an extra half-hour in a day, even if it means getting up a little earlier. If you belong to a gym, plan to go at least three days a week to start. Then consider filling in the other days with power walks during lunch, Zumba classes with friends, or even try something you've never considered, like boxing. Working up a sweat and getting the endorphins flowing will definitely help keep stress levels manageable.

Video: 2-minute anti-aging RX -- Stress less

2 of 23 Gym (Echo/Getty Images)

Day 2: Go decaf

Caffeine doesn't help lower stress levels. If you're consuming a lot, cut back. Way back. Go from three cups of regular coffee to just one; after two weeks try making that one cup half-regular and half-decaf. Once that feels OK, then switch to full-decaf. Or swap in a cup or two of green tea, which has small amounts of caffeine, but other healthy antioxidants, and doesn't seem to rev the human motor in the same way that caffeine in coffee or a soft drink does. You may be tired the first week or two as you cut back, but your energy levels will soon return, and you'll feel a lot less stressed.

3 of 23 Coffee (AAGAMIA/Getty Images)

Day 3: Get jazzed

With jasmine, that is. Recent studies have shown that inhaling jasmine fragrance has mild but measurable stress-reducing effects on the body. Stock up on jasmine candles, and sip some jasmine herbal tea. Also, consider switching your perfume to one that contains jasmine. Classic scents like Chanel No. 5 and Joy contain jasmine. Also, Jo Malone's Honeysuckle & Jasmine scent comes in a spray perfume as well as a body lotion. With a faint scent of jasmine on your skin, you'll be wearing your own stress-blocking "shield."

4 of 23 Jasmine tea (Barry Wong/Getty Images)

Day 4: Hit the mat

If you're feeling stress on a regular basis, yoga is going to become your best friend. Yoga is calming to the mind and spirit, tones the body, and helps ensure a better night's sleep. But wait, there's more: A study in the Medical Science Monitor showed that women's stress hormones (including cortisol) were measurably lower after doing yoga. And another study, in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, followed yoga practitioners over four years and found that those who practiced yoga gained less weight over that time than non-practitioners. Try a class at your gym or your community center, or get a gentle beginners' DVD and start at "om sweet om."

5 of 23 Yoga (Drazen Vukelic/Getty Images)

Day 5: Have more nookie

Couples, you will like this one! The Journal of Sexual Health recently published a study that showed that couples who regularly engaged in loving sex showed remarkably lower levels of stress than those who didn't. Women especially benefit from the stress-release of orgasm. So get a date night, or three, on the books for this week!

6 of 23 Couple (Cavan Images/Getty Images)

Day 6: Stock up on herbal teas

Try sipping these throughout the day instead of coffee or soda. And have a nice cup of chamomile before bed. The evidence is overwhelming that chamomile, and especially peppermint, have relaxing effects on the body and mind. They also taste yummy together. Soon that ritual of boiling water, steeping the teabags, and sipping the tea will be as satisfying as brewing and drinking your morning coffee, with none of the hyped-up effects that can mess with your stress levels.

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Day 7: Ditch the soda

The extra caffeine in colas and other soda is not helping your stress levels. Studies at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the extra sugar or the artificial sweeteners in diet soda are just as toxic and stress-inducing to your body as caffeine. Switch gradually to water (fizzy water counts!), which helps flush toxins out your system and keeps you hydrated. Bonus: Save the money you'd be spending on the soda and treat yourself to something fun —and relaxing — at the end of the month.

8 of 23 Soda (Håkan Dahlström/Getty Images)

Day 8: Brew your own

Do some of your own research online, in books, or at your local herbalist or health-food store about properties of different herbs and extracts. Mix and match ones that speak to you when you smell them. Mixing up a tonic or tea that you blended yourself helps you find a formula that will especially soothe your soul. Recommended reading: "Elixir's Tonics and Teas" by Jeff Stein and Edgar Veytia and "Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health" by Rosemary Gladstar.

9 of 23 Tea (Plush Studios/Getty Images)

Day 9: Move your TV

That's right, no more TV in the bedroom. This is the first piece of advice doctors in sleep clinics give to patients with sleep issues. Your bedroom should be for sleep and sex only. Watching TV in bed keeps your mind and stress hormones stimulated, making it tough to nod off after you turn off the lights. And give yourself a curfew of at least an hour before bedtime, when you cut yourself off from intense TV shows and all Internet surfing. Your mind needs to unwind and disengage, which will help your body follow suit in bed.

10 of 23 TV (Cavan Images/Getty Images)