10 stay-happy stress busters
1. Breathe deep When you’re stressed, your breathing becomes shallow; to add insult to injury, the less oxygen that’s being pumped in to your body, the more fatigued you feel. Deep breathing soothes the autonomic nervous system. Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of five; then exhale through your mouth, for a count of eight. Acknowledge all your different thoughts and imagine that they are becoming less confused, settling into place with the rise and fall of your breath. Notice how your breath moves through you - filling first your nostrils, then your throat, chest and belly – and how it energises you. Your breath is the source of your power: if you feel yourself being distracted, just return your focus to the movement of your breath.
2. Change the atmosphere Use an aromatherapy burner to vaporise essential oils, or fill a spray bottle with 100 ml water, add 4-6 drops of essential oil(s) of your choice, shake, and use to mist your room, car, or desk. Choose from lavender (to calm and soothe), clove (warming and comforting), ylang ylang (grounding to the senses) and chamomile (alleviates stress-related headaches and jitteriness).
3. Bathe by candlelight Bathing is one of the best ways to restore your sanity, especially if you add all-natural vegetable wax or beeswax candles. When you take a bath in a room lit by harsh electric bulbs, you remain firmly tethered to the stresses of your day. Candlelight, on the other hand, creates a haven of natural calm, taking you back in time to simpler days when humans naturally stopped work at sunset, instead of trying to squeeze more activities into the night-time hours. Float in the warmth and gaze at the flame: draw the idea of the light deeply into your mind, putting other thoughts aside. Let the warm water and soft light slow your brain down to a crawl.
4. Try something silly Stress management expert Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant recommends blowing bubbles, hula-hooping, skipping, dancing, playing with a yo-yo, or wearing an eye patch in times of stress. “Any activity that is fun, fresh and playful promotes the growth of neurons in your brain and makes you begin to think, I can do this! Just as when you were a child and learning to ride a bike, it reminds you that you have resilience, the ability to practise, persist and have another go.”
5. Get busy in the bedroom Sure, getting enough shut-eye assuages stress – but it’s what you do before going to sleep that does the trick, says an Arizona State University study. Researchers found that women who had sex felt significantly less stressed the next day. Endorphins and oxytocin, the feel-good hormones produced during sex, are responsible for this day-after glow. The irony, of course, is that this proven stress-buster - a satisfying sex life - is invariably a casualty of prolonged stress. Intimacy guide Martina Hughes suggests a softly-softly approach to rebuilding a stressed-out sex life. “If you begin reconnecting slowly and gently, with no expectations, the sexual energy will gradually rise again as well.”
6. Express yourself “Face your mind’s demons, and they become merely shadows,” says a Samurai proverb. Writing about stressful experiences neutralises negative emotions, and provides an inspirational record of your growth through both good and bad times. There’s something about committing thoughts to paper or to a computer file and working through problems that makes them more real, which also makes them more manageable. If you don’t solve a problem right away, it doesn’t matter. Simply getting it out of your head is progress and helps you to feel calmer.
7. Be present When we are stressed, we are usually thinking about something that has already happened (which we can’t control) or something that may be about to happen (which we can’t control, either). Practise mindfulness and learn to live in the now, focusing your attention purely on the present moment. Craig Hassad, senior lecturer in Clinical Studies at Monash University, adds, “Mindfulness raises your awareness of what’s really going on and strengthens your ability to disengage from mental clutter.”
8. Don’t take life too seriously Mark Twain said, “Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods.” Laughter is the quickest way to defuse a stressful situation, relax you, and help you to accept mistakes. It really is the best medicine for your physical health, too; studies show that a depressed mood triggers hormones that suppress immune activity, while the more you laugh, the more antibodies you produce. Founder of Laughter Yoga, Dr Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga (http://www.laughteryoga.org/), adds, “A good laugh reduces cortisol, relaxes muscles, and expands blood vessels, sending more oxygen and nutrients all over the body.” Discover what makes you laugh, and keep a few triggers handy: a book of cartoons, a comic video, funny cards, or favourite Youtube clips. The bonus? Laughter is infectious, so you also lighten the day of those around you.
9. Turn on the taps According to a Swedish study published in the International Journal of Stress Management, soaking in a warm, salty bath elevated patients’ levels of prolactin, a hormone that triggers feelings of comfort and calm, by 33 percent.
10. Go home Researchers at the University of Warwick found a strong link between working longer hours and a deterioriation in the quality of mental health of up to 10 percent.