Try these super-speedy tricks to turn the pressure into peace
In today’s fast-paced world, even the calmest of us can find stress creeping in. A 2018 survey by mentalhealth.org.uk found that 74 percent of UK adults had felt so stressed at some point over the past year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Whether it’s a busy workload, challenging relationships, financial or health worries, long-term tension can have a negative effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. We’ve pulled together some of the best stress busting ideas to help you break the cycle.
It sounds obvious, but our breathing has a lot to do with how relaxed we are. “Deep breaths are essential to get the mind thinking clearly and for the body to slow down,” says lifecoach and speaker Rasheed Ogunlaru (rasaru.com). “Put your hands behind your head, stand tall and take three slow, very deep breaths from your stomach. You’ll start to feel the air in your lungs and feel yourself calming down.”
Stress often stems from fear, so challenge those fears and simply ask yourself: ‘What am I afraid of?’ “Fear triggers your ‘fight or flight’ stress response,” says counsellor and coach Cat Williams, author of Stay Calm and Content No Matter What Life Throws At You (staycalmandcontent.com). “But it’s probably F.E.A.R i.e. (False Evidence Appearing Real) too. Do you really need to feel afraid, and therefore stressed?”
Sing your favourite song or nursery rhyme (in your head if you’re in public)” says Steve Neesam, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist (together-therapy.co.uk). “It is far easier to distract your mind than to tell it not to think about something. A nursery rhyme can also bring up the emotions anchored in childhood and put you into a more carefree state.”
The age-old adage ‘laughter is the best medicine’ might just be true; with numerous studies showing it can have a positive effect on stress-busting hormones. Other studies have shown it may help reduce heart disease and enhance learning and memory. Even more reasons to be happy!
Mantras have been used for millennia to train the brain and create calm, but even one word will do. “Think of a word that makes you feel calm (I actually like the word ‘calm’ itself) and when you get stressed just say, or think of, the word,” says Ogunlaru. “This brief second or two may just give you that moment to catch your breath, bite your lip, let it go, or walk away.”
Giving your stress attention might seem counter-intuitive, but pushing it away can cause much more anxiety. “Instead, focus on the negative feeling: where do you feel it in your body? Imagine that stress as an object. Is it hard, or soft? What colour is it?” says Stiles. “Now imagine that object gradually fading away or gently dissolving.”
Instead of rushing through your break, use it as a top-up. “Look at your forkful before it goes in your mouth: notice the shape, the texture, the smell,” says psychotherapist Dr Christian Buckland. Being really present can take us momentarily away from a stressful situation and look at it in a more calm and controlled manner.”
“Bring to mind somebody you love – maybe your child, your partner, a friend or a parent – and vividly imagine them smiling at you,” says therapist and coach Ann Finnemore, author of Life in the Driving Seat: taking your road trip to happiness (gettingyouthere.co.uk). “Our immediate reaction is to smile back and when we do, we release both physical and emotional stress.
Studies have shown regularly acknowledging the good things in life can reduce toxic emotions and improve wellbeing. “Every day, think about one good thing that has happened to you,” says hypnotherapist Sharon Stiles, author of Stop Trying to be Positive (sharonstiles.co.uk). “It could just be the fact that you got caught in the rain on your way home rather than on your way out!”
It’s easy to reach for the fries when you’re frazzled, or a chocolate bar to boost your mood, but in the long-term these foods can actually dampen down feel-good hormones. “Reduce stress with a handful of nuts and seeds, a small cube of cheese or a slice of boiled egg,” says Emma Scott, nutritionist and lifestyle coach (nutrilife.uk.com). “These foods are rich in the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan, needed to produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which help induce a sense of calm.”
“Our brains don’t know the difference between being relaxed and imagining we are relaxed,” says Williams. “So, when you are facing something stressful, take five seconds to imagine you are someone who could handle this challenge. Really concentrate on being that person. Take a deep breath in, release it, and step into a new version of yourself!”
“Keep an elastic band round your wrist and ping it a couple of times if you start to feel stressed or anxious,” says Dr Buckland. “This may seem simplistic but it can help break a chain reaction of automatic and negative thoughts that accompany the physical or psychological symptoms of stress.”
A knee-jerk reaction in a stressful situation can often make the stress and the situation worse, so it pays to take a moment. “Pause and let the moment that has triggered you off to pass. Physically take a step back and change perspective,” says Ogunlaru. “Sometimes we are too close to events and become blinkered, so just stepping into another room or changing the chair you sit on can help you see things differently.
“There is an acupressure point on your wrist that helps to reduce overwhelming feelings,” says Stiles. “Use the fingers of one hand to rub gently in a circle on the wrist of the other hand, and look up. This will calm your mind, and looking up helps you feel more positive.”
According to a study by Newcastle’s Northumbria University, breathing in the aroma of lavender has a sedative effect, slowing reactions and reducing agitation. Add one drop of essential oil to a hankie and inhale the calm!
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