Updated 14 July 2014

Zap stress and take back your life

Question: What are the things that stress us most? Answer: All things we can’t avoid. But there’s a way.


Question: What are the things that stress us most? Answer: All things we can’t avoid. But there’s a way.

What stresses you? Petrol prices? US foreign policy? The way everyone fawns over the Beckhams, Paris Hilton and other showbiz cut-outs? Irritating as things like that may be, you can ignore it most of the time.

What you can’t ignore is how the things that are pivotal to your life can stress you: Your job, commuting to your job, your partner, your money.

Sounds odd, but many of things you can’t get away from will crank up your tension – working on a computer, sitting in traffic, earning your daily crust, having a relationship and even trying to unwind.

For instance, one study found that workers’ breathing rates increase by a third when they work on their PCs, and that the muscular tension in their arms and shoulders increases when they log on.

Understand stress: It primes you for action. Adrenaline gives your body almost superhuman fight-or-flight abilities. It can also sear traumatic memories into your memory. So if you’re doing something that brings back bad memories – say, reprimanding a subordinate – it can get worse, not easier as time goes by.

A few suggestions to zap stress

 Take breaks at work. Set yourself a reminder to get up, stretch, bounce around on your tiptoes and wriggle your wrists.

 Make time for a break. Try going for a swim, which helps get oxygen fizzing around in your bloodstream. It also moves around lymphatic fluid, which tends to pool in your legs when you sit a lot.

 Lend an ear. Gary in Accounts has miscalculated your expenses – again. You feel like grabbing him by the ears and head-butting him, right on the nose. Rather grab your own earlobes and wiggle them in gentle circular motions, in different directions. One therapist said this moves something called the tentorium membrane – that’s a layer of layer of tissue that separates your cerebellum from other parts of your brain. It can help relieve stress. It’s also hard to take yourself too seriously while doing it.

Get time alone with your partner. No phones, no artificial light. Watch a nostalgic video or, better still head for the outdoors - somewhere barefoot and away from traffic noise.

Have a good sniff. Try some essential oils, such as pine, citrus and sandalwood. Try some in your bath as well as in a burner on your desk if nobody objects.

Use your tongue. As your partner will tell you, it’s a potent, pliable muscle. But don’t just use it to shout at rugby referees on TV. Push it against the roof of your mouth for 30 seconds. Don’t ask us why – it just seems to work.

Exhaust yourself. Whether it’s a pre-dawn run, a bout of yoga or some one-to-one time with a heavy bag, few things are as good at nixing stress as tiring exercise. You owe it yourself and everyone around you to make the time.

Don’t try to do too much. Cherry-pick two or three important, high-priority things each day. Get them out of the way early and you’ll feel more peaceful than if you either did nothing or tried to do too much.

Have a good bounce. Buy a trampoline. A big one. Leap up and down on it. Defying gravity can make you feel like master of your own destiny.

Get some rest. This should perhaps be at the top of the list, but theoretically everyone knows it already. Most of us are sleep-deprived to one degree. Can’t sleep? Head for the kitchen and have a banana with the some oatmeal. Instant, just-add-hot-water oatmeal will do in this instance. Bananas contain potassium and both bananas and oatmeal contain melatonin, which your body needs if you want to sleep properly.

QUIZ: Assess your stress


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