Let it go: 4 ways to leave stress at work

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(MoneyWatch) Having a work-life balance isn't just about flexible schedules and telecommuting. It's also about being able to mentally separate your work and personal lives. Whether you're coming home to a family, significant other or roommates, you're not going to be at your best -- or healthiest -- if workday stress follows you home at night. More than likely, you've already been listening to relaxing music on your commute, or reading a book. Here are four new ways to decompress:

Get out of your day clothes
Your wear your weekend clothes when you're enjoying R&R -- and simply changing into them may put you in that mindset. "Put on your jeans or comfort clothes. They give off a relaxed vibe that signals your brain and unconscious mind that work is done," says Joan Borysenko, PhD and author of Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive. Depending on your office, you may be able to do this before you even leave for home.

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Smile on purpose
In the case of grinning, it turns out that you can fake it 'til you make it. "We smile when we feel happy. We also feel happy when we smile. Your brain essentially says, "Oh, I'm smiling, I must be happy." And your mood follows suit. Make a concerted effort to smile and even laugh before you walk into your house, suggests Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness

Stretch it out
There's a reason why you don't see a lot of stressed-out yoga teachers. But you don't have to spend all day Om-ing to reap real benefits. "Do simple stretches and breathing exercises in your office at day's end, like neck rolls, shoulder rolls, opening and closing the jaw," suggests Ginny Whitelaw, author of The Zen Leader: 10 Ways To Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly.

Change your scent surroundings
Ever notice how a spa has aromatherapy scents to help set the mood? You can imitate that by spraying yourself (or your car) with a relaxing smell, like lavender or vanilla. "These signal your brain that you have entered a different environment," says Borysenko. Basically, once your brain clearly "knows" that you aren't at work anymore, you'll start to slough off the stress associated with that time and place.

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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