Stress: Ten easy ways to ease the pressure

Dr Sarah Brewer gives us her easy-to-use guide ten-step guide to cutting your stress levels and reducing anxiety

1: Don’t be afraid of ‘to-do’ lists

Are you prioritising tasks appropriately?

If you find yourself juggling several half-finished tasks, try doing only one thing at a time and completing it before moving on to the next. A “to-do” list focuses your mind on oustanding tasks, allowing you to prioritise each activity and to set a deadline for its completion. It also offers you the satisfaction of crossing out each task as it’s completed. Add new tasks to the list as they arise. At the end of each day review your list and prioritise what you need to do the day after.

2: Combat stress at work

Hand over appropriate tasks to someone who is under less pressure than you are and try not to add to your stress by micro-managing them. Many stressed people find it difficult to say no. Become comfortable with saying no calmly and firmly, so that you don’t take on more than you can cope with. If your boss is stressing you out, remember that no one can make you feel inferior without you letting them. How you respond to negative remarks is up to you.

3: How to avoid status anxiety

Comparing yourself unfavourably with others is a powerful source of internal stress. Overcome this by writing down at least ten qualities that you like about yourself, then put the list in your wallet or purse and read it the next time you feel someone is better than you.

4: How to breathe

When you feel stress taking over, concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply. The average rate of breathing is 10 to 12 breaths a minute, but someone who is panicking may take 30 breaths a minute or more. If you are feeling light-headed or panicky from a bout of overbreathing, cup your hands over your nose and mouth so that you can breathe back some of the excess carbon dioxide gas that you have exhaled. This will calmly and efficiently help to reduce any sense of panic.

When stressed, you tend to breathe shallowly, using movements that involve only the upper part of your rib cage. Your shoulders tend to rise up towards your ears, with little expansion of your abdomen. To improve your breathing technique:

• Breathe into your diaphragm (“belly” breathing), rather than using shallow “chest” breathing.

• Test that you are doing “chest” breathing. Sit comfortably and let your shoulders drop. Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your upper chest.

As you breathe in and out, check that your lower hand rises first. Concentrate on the rise and fall of your abdomen rather than your chest.

• Inhale through your nose.

• Exhale through your mouth.

• Take longer to exhale than to inhale.

• Don’t hold your breath between inhaling and exhaling.

• Slow your breathing down so that you take fewer breaths every minute.

• Practise until this method of breathing becomes your natural pattern.

5: How to have a constructive family row

Discuss emotions rather than bottling them up. When dealing with something that upsets you, use this simple formula: state what the problem is (“You didn’t do X this morning”); state how this affects you (“I was late for work as I had to do X for you”); state how this makes you feel (“I feel annoyed and upset”); and state how you would like the issue resolved (“Please do X yourself in future”). There will be less tension if you designate at least one evening a week as “me” time to do exactly what you like when you like — whether it’s meeting friends, reading a book or watching a good film.

6: Consciously take ‘time out’

When feeling stressed, sit back comfortably in a chair or lie down. Close your eyes and breathe calmly and slowly. Let your attention roam over your body, consciously relaxing the muscles in your neck, hands, arms, shoulders, back, abdomen, bottom and legs. Sit or lie limply until you feel ready to face the world again.

7: Take your pulse

If you’re serious about monitoring your anxiety levels, check your pulse. Take your resting pulse rate and blood pressure, using a home blood pressure monitor (you can buy one from a chemist). Now close your eyes and focus on bringing down your pulse rate. The average resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Visualise your heart beating in your chest and send it mental signals to go slowly. After 10-15 minutes, take your pulse rate and blood pressure again.

8: Learn to meditate

Try to meditate for at least 15 minutes a day. Or try mindfulness meditation as you go about your tasks.

9: Stop watching the clock

Avoid unnecessary time pressure by taking the clock off the wall and not wearing a watch. Experiment with missing a few of your less important deadlines, just to prove that the world doesn’t come to a grinding halt.

10: Don’t be a perfectionist

If you believe your performance is poor, are you being too critical? Where is the evidence? Ask other people what they think and use their feedback in a positive, constructive manner.

From Cut Your Stress: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Stress-Free Living by Dr Sarah Brewer