Mood makeovers

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Change your state of mind with these at-home tension-relieving tips, tailored to keep you feeling and looking your best.

YOUR BIG PRESENTATION is due first thing in the morning; you'll have to work late. You desperately need to squeeze in a workout, but there are a million things to take care of at home: a stack of past-due bills, kids clamoring for dinner, a dog that needs walking. By the end of the day you might find yourself begging Calgon (or Air Tahiti) to take you away!

A little stress in our lives is unavoidable; in fact, it gives us energy and pushes us to succeed. But too much stress is, well, just too much. It takes a toll not only on our minds and health, but on our looks as well. "When our bodies perceive a stressful situation, they respond by releasing adrenaline and other hormones," explains Richard G. Fried, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical psychologist in Yardley, Pa.

These changes, says Fried, are especially hard on the skin, which may end up looking either very sallow or very flushed, depending on whether your blood vessels tend to dilate or constrict as a stress response. Stress can also exacerbate skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, rosacea and eczema, and even lead to hair loss; over time, it can cause skin to appear aged beyond its years.

To look your best, find your own way to keep stress under control. "The way each person experiences stress is as unique as a fingerprint," says aromatherapist Noella Gabriel, director of product and treatment development for the spa line Elemis. You might become unfocused and agitated, while your mate or colleague feels drained and worn out. No matter what your stress response is, the right beauty boosters can help. Here's our roundup of the best suggestions for when the pressures of life are making you anxious, frazzled or sluggish.

your stress response you worry too much
Milestone birthdays, career changes, a big event like a wedding, illness (your own, or that of someone close to you) — all of these can leave you feeling apprehensive and nervous. Putting the importance of each situation into perspective can help ease anxiety. So can setting aside a few minutes each day to care for yourself using one (or both) of these methods:

SOLUTIONS
• Relax the muscles in your face. A furrowed brow and a tight mouth are sure signs of tension and worry. "If you have a habit of tensing the muscles in your face, dynamic wrinkles or 'expression lines' can form," says Sumayah Jamal, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology and microbiology at New York University School of Medicine. "Over time, these lines can progress to permanent wrinkles." This simple facial-relaxation exercise can de-stress your body and give your face a more youthful look, long-term: Sit with your eyes closed and focus on your facial muscles. If they're tense, consciously relax them one at a time, moving from your forehead down to your mouth. Also, just as a body massage can relieve muscle tension, adding a massage during your skin-care routine can help, too.

TO TRY: Chanel Ultra Correction Nuit ($75; gloss.com) comes with cotton massage gloves and a guide that explains how to eliminate muscular tensions by pinching specific areas of the face between the thumb and index finger. The deeply hydrating cream contains natural softening humectants like canola oil and shea butter extract. Tony & Tina Herbal Face Cream with Borage ($34; tonytina.com) contains apricot-kernel oil and mango-seed and shea butters to soften and moisturize skin — just right for facial massage.

• Use aromatherapy oils to ease your breathing. "Part of the stress response is that you adopt a different pattern of breathing than when you're relaxed," says Jamal. Anxiety causes the chest to tighten, which makes breathing shallow. To help loosen the chest, Gabriel recommends taking deep breaths, imagining that you're drawing them in from the belly, while inhaling essential oils that relax the respiratory muscles, such as eucalyptus and tea tree. Peppermint also can help, as it is thought to calm the digestive system — another area of the body that is often affected by stress.

TO TRY: Origins Sensory Therapy Peace of Mind Stress-Relief Diffusing Oil ($15) and Diffuser ($10; both at origins.com) come with a candle that warms an essential-oil blend to infuse the air with the calming aroma of basil, peppermint and eucalyptus. Elemis Tea Tree-Melaleuca Alternifolia ($30; elemis.com) is 100 percent tea-tree essential oil, which can be mixed with a tablespoonful of milk (a natural hydrator and skin smoother) and then added to bath water. Kneipp Spruce Sparkling Herbal Bath ($3 per tablet; 800-937-4372), a no-mess tablet infused with essential oils, fizzes when added to water.

your stress response you feel tired all the time
The culprit is probably lack of sleep — often the first thing to go when tension levels rise. "Sleep requires a passive disengagement from a bustling environment," says Colleen Carney, Ph.D., a fellow in the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. "The level of activity and tension that a stressful lifestyle creates sends emergency-like signals through the body. We can't sleep when our bodies think there's an emergency." Make your bedroom a sanctuary to promote sound shut-eye. If it still eludes you, follow this advice for looking and feeling more energized:

SOLUTIONS
• Open your eyes. Chandra Shaw, owner of Trilogy Spa in Hermosa Beach, Calif., advises her sleep-deprived clients to give themselves a mini eye massage. "Start at the inner corner of your eye," she instructs, "then work your way out and up along the brow bone. Once you've made a few complete circles, lightly tap the skin around the eyes." Use a bit of an emollient eye cream — preferably one with ingredients that lighten circles under the eyes or reduce puffiness — while you're massaging the skin for additional relief.

TO TRY: BeneFit Eyecon Brightening Eye Cream ($26; benefitcosmetics.com) is made with japonica leaf (from the thorny japonica shrub that's native to Japan) and citrus extracts to stimulate circulation and fade dark circles. Algotherm Eyes Target Gel ($22; algothermusa.com) has the botanical coneflower to decongest and relieve puffiness.

• Clean up to help you wake up. Get blood flowing through your body with a quick, pre- or in-shower scrub. "Dry brushing [before you shower] with an exfoliating mitt or brush, or using a Dead Sea salt scrub in the shower, removes dead skin cells and stimulates the lymphatic and circulatory systems — and really wakes you up," says esthetician Lidia Czurgiel, founder of the Finesse Day Spa in New York City. Scrubs (and even body washes) that have energizing citrus or mint scents are good choices.

TO TRY: Molton Brown Exhilarating Julipe Cleansing Body Scrub ($32; sephora.com) imparts an uplifting and revitalizing herbal scent as it exfoliates. Willow Stream Energy Exfoliating Creamy Cleanser ($16; willowstream.com) contains scrubbing jojoba beads and refreshing and grounding essential oils like lemon.

your stress response
you take care of everything but yourself If making time to care for No. 1 seems out of the question, try these tips for quick and easy stress reduction:

SOLUTIONS
• Turn your shower into an herbal steam. Sure, bathing has its benefits. But on busy days, the process of filling a tub and soaking for 20 minutes can seem daunting. Instead, make your daily shower an indulgence by sprinkling one or two drops of an essential oil on the floor of the stall; steam from the warm water helps disperse the oil and spread the aromatherapeutic benefits without any extra effort on your part. "You also can apply an essential-oil blend that's been mixed with a base of jojoba, apricot or almond oil directly to your skin before you hop in the shower," recommends Czurgiel. "This will soften your skin and help you relax." Her favorite calming essential oils are geranium and rose.

TO TRY: Aveda Calming Composition ($18; aveda.com) is a blend of jojoba oil and rose essential oil that also contains vitamins A and E to moisturize skin before or after showering. St. Ives Calming Aroma Steam Body Wash ($3.50; at drugstores) works with the steam in your shower to release the aromas of soothing lavender and chamomile extracts.

• Find attainable indulgences. You're more likely to make time for yourself if all you need is a few minutes to feel less stressed. Instead of blocking two hours of your schedule for a massage at a day spa, give yourself a mini-massage at home. "Don't worry about technique," says Gabriel. "Focus on the scalp, the back of your neck and across the top of your shoulders, using gentle movements and gradually increasing pressure." Then, in lieu of an hour-long facial, opt for a five-minute at-home mask, which can refresh you and your skin — and give you some downtime to clear your head.

TO TRY: American Beauty Spare Moment Moisture Mask ($14; americanbeautycosmetics.com), quenches dry skin with sweet-almond and ricebran oils. DHC Alpha-Arbutin White Mask ($10; dhccare.com), a pre-saturated cloth mask, features plant extracts and the botanical arbutin to brighten dark spots. Babor Relaxing Mask ($20; 888-222-6791) is an apricot-based cream with calming herbs such as sage and chamomile to soothe irritated or sensitive skin.

PHOTO (COLOR): Don't get enough beauty sleep? You can still greet the day looking fabulous. Turn the page for our eye-opening tips.

PHOTO (COLOR): You can alleviate your anxiety and breathe a little easier with these relaxing aromatherapy treatments for bath, shower and general ambience.

PHOTO (COLOR): Perk up while you pamper with energizing cleansers from Willow Stream, St. Ives and Molton Brown.

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By Megan O'Connell

Photographs by Jim Jordan

Sanity -- saving spa escapes
Sometimes, the best way to leave your troubles behind is to pack your bags and go where stress can't follow. Here, a few of our favorite treatments from a few of our favorite spas:

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa in Farmington, Pa. (800-422-2736) The Krauter Bath ($65; 25 minutes) is a German remedy that uses botanicals such as pine (to invigorate), wildflower (to soothe muscles) and chamomile (to calm).

Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas (800-847-5637) To clear your mind before heading to bed, try the Texas Starry Night treatment ($135; 50 minutes); lavender oil is massaged into your skin, then you're wrapped up for 10 minutes to soak in the sleep-inducing benefits. An herbal eye mask and a heat pack on your tummy will have you dreaming in no time.

Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa in Stowe, Vt. (800-253-2232) The spa's signature treatment is the Vermont Maple Sugar Body Polish ($155; 80 minutes), an invigorating scrub of exfoliating apricot kernels and hydrating Vermont maple syrup, followed by a 50-minute full-body massage with a vanilla-orange-scented body butter.

Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, Calif. (866-271-6953) The Elements of Life treatment ($340; 120 minutes) starts with a warm oceanic-mud body mask, which is removed by a long soak in a rose-and-jasmine-infused bath and followed by a neck, shoulder and head massage. The treatment ends with an exfoliating citrus scrub and full-body rubdown.

Sundara Spa in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. (888-735-8181) Inspired by the purifying principles of Ayurveda, the Paprika Glow Facial ($110; 50 minutes) increases blood flow to the skin's surface to leave your complexion looking rosy and refreshed.

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