What are the secrets of dealing with stress - and of relieving it? Two experts on stress - Dr Roger Henderson, GP and medical columnist and agony aunt Ingrid Miller - each suggest five stressbusting techniques to get you started...
First, Dr Roger Henderson with some top tips on beating stress.
1. Keep a diary
Keep a list – for at least a fortnight – of events, times, places and people that seem to make you feel more stressed. You will probably be surprised to find that a pattern soon emerges; and this may be linked to
time pressure, personality clashes, inappropriate demands or simply trying to do too many things at once. Once you have identified your pressure points you can move on to the following solutions…
Talk through your diary with a good friend or your partner – even the act of discussing things often makes you feel better. Ask for impartial advice as to how to ease the problems that you have discovered, or choose the sort of stressful situations that you have identified in which to use the following relaxation techniques.
3. Learn how to relax
- Practise deep-breathing techniques such as slowly inhaling while counting to five; hold your breath for five seconds then breathe out slowly. Repeat this 10 times when feeling stressed, concentrating on nothing but your breathing.
- Stretch the muscles of your neck and shoulders by keeping your shoulders level and trying to touch each shoulder with your ear. Look right up at the ceiling, down at the floor and then rotate each shoulder in a wide circle. Repeat five times. Open and close your jaw widely after each time since stress often causes tenseness in the jaw area.
- Take time out. For five minutes every hour, try to ‘shut down’ and think of nothing but your perfect situation. This could be a dream holiday, ideal partner or simply thinking about doing nothing at all. You will be surprised at how effectively this can lower stress levels.
4. Exercise Regularly
You do not have to be a gym freak to get the stress-beating benefits of exercise. Even 20 minutes of brisk walking three times a week will help to reduce stress as well as promoting restful sleep.
5. Plan breaks in your day
The aim here is to allow time for the unexpected (which, as we all know, will happen!). Get up 15 minutes earlier than you think you need to and prepare for the day without rushing. Even better, get things ready the night before. Try to have 20 minutes in the morning and afternoon that is exclusively ‘your’ time, in which you can do whatever you want, even if it is simply sitting doing nothing. Look forward to these times when things get busy and if you are unable to use them always remember to ‘catch up’ later on.
And one thing not to do…
One approach, on the other hand, to avoid, is that of using smoking and alcohol as crutches to help you cope – in the long run they simply make stress worse. Drinking more to ‘calm your nerves’ is a slippery slope.
Five more simple stress relievers
Ingrid Miller, agony aunt of Essentials Magazine, offers five handy stressbusting techniques to use in everyday situations.
Sitting upright on a chair, and keeping your back straight, extend your arms out in front of you as far as possible. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat, with your arms behind you. Then hold on to the sides of your chair and push your body upwards. Feel your spine stretch. Hold for ten. Now stretch arms to the ceiling, to release tension in back and shoulders. Relax and shake your arms.
2. Use scent to improve your mood
Certain aromas are thought to activate the production of the brain’s feel-good chemical serotonin [although one recent research study suggests that the benefits claimed for aromatherapy may derive from the power of suggestion. Ed.]. Drip a few drops of the following aromatherapy oils on a tissue to sniff when you feel stress levels rising: jasmine, neroli, lavender, chamomile, vetiver, clary sage.
Mess creates confusion and a sense of loss of power. If your desk/home/car is messy and disorganised, have a good clear out and tidy up. You’ll instantly feel more in control.
4. Change the habit
Many stresses are habitual. If you start to feel anxious or stressed out, do something out of character. Stop what you’re doing and do something else. Or take a minute to take stock and work out why you’re feeling uptight.
5. Think positive
Use ‘affirmations’ – positive strands of thought put into words. Repeating, ‘I am a loving and much loved person’, can work wonders. Say it and believe it. And it will become true.