A sustainable sense of well-being stems from having a nutritious diet, plenty of down time, regular exercise, balanced relationships, a job you enjoy and a well-designed home in an environment that you love. Sounds superb, but the daily toll of a busy life can easily throw us off course. While we can aim for all of the above, there are short cuts for busy people that will help them feel better along the way.
Many of us see creating a meal as just another chore, so we buy one that's been cooked for us, heat it up, eat it quickly and get on to the next thing. According to a study at the University at California, cooking our own supper takes on average only 10 minutes more of our time. In his book Ultra-Metabolism (Atria Books), Dr Mark Hyman says that cooking quick meals from scratch whenever you can will make you more likely to lose weight and keep control of it because "whole foods switch on your metabolism, while processed, refined or junk foods impair it". The book contains quick, nutritious and tasty recipes that use lean protein and anti-oxidant-packed vegetables. You'll find one to get you started at www.ultrametabolism.com/recipes.
It can also be difficult to find the time to exercise but scientists now say that short bursts can be more effective than long sessions. The former Olympic pentathlete and sport scientist Greg Whyte says the key is to find three sets of 10 minutes anywhere in your day to do something physical. His book Get Fit, Not Fat (Kyle Cathie) features intense five to 10-minute workouts you can follow. If you find set workouts boring, try running up and down the stairs a few times a day, using a skipping rope in your courtyard or garden, jumping up and down on a small trampoline or doing some vigorous hoovering - anything active and enjoyable will be beneficial.
Taking time out each day to stretch is also a wonderful way to relax quickly, easing bodily tension, calming the nervous system and improving posture. You can do neck stretches sitting anywhere, and if you have more space, ease out your calves, hips and back. Ask your therapist, gym trainer or a yoga/pilates teacher to help you develop a short routine that targets your stiffest muscles. Or for an easy-to-follow DVD, try The Body Lean and Lifted by Marja Putkisto, who has developed her own form of exercise (www.methodputkisto.com).
Once you are well fed, exercised and stretched out, it's time for a nap, which is a quick and easy way to boost energy. A Harvard study has shown that those who nap regularly are 37 per cent less likely to die of heart disease than non-nappers. Aim for no longer than 20 minutes (just before you enter deep sleep) to avoid feeling groggy when you wake up and to reduce the risk of insomnia at night. Set an alarm to ensure you don't oversleep and avoid climbing into your bed if you're at home. Instead, cover yourself lightly with a shawl or wrap, and make sure you're in a well-ventilated room.
Focus on your breath and allow your thoughts to play out in your mind as your body relaxes. Don't panic if you can't completely drift off - treat it like meditation, and your body and mind will reap the benefits. Coffee drinkers take note: caffeine takes 20 minutes to hit, so if you nap just after a coffee you'll wake up with a double boost. Quick de-stressing doesn't have to be about making a big effort. Do things you love with people you love, whether it's going to see a film or a music concert, taking a walk or sharing a meal together. And watch what you're thinking, for when it comes to well-being, our thoughts can be enemy number one. Follow any negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, if you are thinking about having to stay at work late tonight, consider booking a massage tomorrow.
Most of all, stop worrying what others think. As the philosopher Susan Sontag said: "I envy paranoids. They actually feel someone is paying attention to them." In reality, most people are thinking of themselves most of the time - it's been our human survival strategy for thousands of years. So breathe easy and give yourself permission to do what's best for you. Caroline Sylger Jones is the author of the Body & Soul Escapes books, which feature places to retreat and replenish around the world. See www.carolinesylgerjones.co.uk.