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Stress-busting Techniques

Banish Stress Today!

We can often feel stressed, burned out and overwhelmed by the pace and challenges of modern life. The bills keep landing on the mat, there are never enough hours in the day, and work and family life can seem a never ending juggling act. But you have more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realisation that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management. Take charge of your emotions, your thoughts and your behaviour by using the following powerful techniques:


Stress-busting Technique One: 7 / 11 Breathing

Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you feel relaxed? The next time you are relaxed, take a moment to notice how your body feels. Or think about how you breathe when you first wake up in the morning or just before you fall asleep. Breathing exercises can help you relax, because they make your body feel like it does when you are already relaxed. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress.

With one hand on the chest and the other on the tummy, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. You might imagine a balloon in your abdominal area which inflates as you breathe in and deflates fully as you breathe out. Then breathe slowly out. The secret is to make each “out” breath last longer than each “in” breath so breathe in for a count of 7 and then out for a count of 11 (or in for 3 and out for 5). This has the effect of stimulating the body’s natural relaxation mechanism. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. You can do it anywhere – in bed, on a bus, waiting for an interview, even whilst walking gently.


Stress-busting Technique Two: Progressive Relaxation

This is taken from martial arts training and uses the scientific principle that a muscle that is first tensed and then relaxed will be more relaxed than it was at the outset. Simply close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group of your body for two to three seconds each. You might start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, abdomen, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes — all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. You can practise this wherever and whenever it works best: at home or at work.

Stress-busting Technique Three: Body Scan

We tend to live so much in our heads these days, we forget that we have a body at all! We fail to notice when we are thirsty or tired and so drive our long suffering bodies into a state of exhaustion.

The body scan develops your ability to intentionally move your attention around and focus deeply on different regions of your body, allowing you to experience how each part feels –not trying to change anything, just checking out what’s going on. You might start with your toes and gradually move up your body to the top of your head or vice versa. Sitting or lying comfortably, in your mind’s eye just turn your attention to each part of your body in turn, all your toes, balls of feet, ankles, heels, lower leg, knees and so on. If you find your thoughts straying, as they always do, just gently bring them back to the area of the body where you wish to focus. Spend a few minutes doing this – are there any areas of tension developing which might turn into a nasty headache later on? Do you need to get up for your desk and walk around and stretch everything? And a body scan can be a great way to get yourself off to sleep.


Stress-busting Technique Four: Use your imagination

Take a few minutes in your busy day to take yourself away in your mind to a place where you feel contented and relaxed such as walking along a beautiful beach or any favourite place. Let your imagination run riot! Imagine all the details – the sounds of the waves breaking, the blue sky, the feel of the sand under your toes and the smell of the ocean.

The brain doesn’t know the difference between a real walk along a beach and an imaginary one and so it prompts the release of the pleasure molecules – endorphins which help with healing, learning, creativity, and performance. Taking time to visualise these experiences will help you to feel more in control of your emotions and thought processes, which may improve your attitude, health, and sense of well-being. Using imagery in a similar way can even help you to prepare for an athletic event or for public speaking. Go through each step of the event in your mind, imagining yourself performing with confidence and calmness. All top sportspeople and athletes today use some kind of visualisation technique as a performance enhancer.


Stress-busting Technique Five: Mindfulness

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

This is a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world authority on the use of mindfulness training as a way of improving the lives of people with physical illnesses such as heart disease and cancer and emotional problems such as anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is an ancient practice found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism and Yoga but modern neuroscience has shown that it can actually bring about physical changes in the brain. Many of today’s leading companies such as eBay, Google and Youtube have brought mindfulness into their workplaces.

Practising mindfulness helps you:

  • to be fully present, here and now
  • to become more connected to yourself, to others and to the world around you
  • to become less disturbed by unpleasant experiences
  • to learn the distinction between you and your thoughts
  • to learn that thoughts and feelings come and go – just like the weather!
  • to experience more calm and peacefulness
  • to develop self-acceptance and self-compassion

Mindfulness is the practice of paying careful attention to what is happening in the present moment, whether it be a sight, a sound, a taste, a smell, a sensation in the body, or mental cognition (this latter includes emotions and thoughts). Mindfulness is called a practice because it takes practice: our minds tend to dwell in the past and the future. You don’t need to be meditating to practice mindfulness. Right now, stop and take three or four conscious breaths, feeling the physical sensation of the breath as it comes in and goes out of your body. There. You’ve just practiced mindfulness!

Notice that while you were engaging in this conscious breathing, your mind wasn’t dwelling in the past or the future. You may have been aware of a sound, a smell, a bodily sensation other than the breath, an emotion, a thought. Meticulous attention to whatever is happening in the present moment is the essence of mindfulness. The sensation of the breath is often used as an anchor because breathing is always present in the moment.

With practice, mindfulness calms and steadies the mind. This is beneficial because when we’re experiencing physical or emotional discomfort, our minds often churn with stressful emotions and thoughts, but they’re a muddy blur—we can’t sort them out. With mindfulness, the “mud” settles so we can see more clearly which allows us to identify what emotions and thoughts are present in our minds at the moment. “Ah, this is anger.” “This is fear.” “This is a worry about something that might happen in the future.”

You might try to take one activity during your day and practise it mindfully – perhaps brushing your teeth, drinking a mug of tea or even driving your car – we spend most of our lives “on automatic” and can easily get to the end of a long journey with little memory of how we got there.

Trying to lose weight or quit smoking? If you aim to make the meal times or smoking times mindful, simply cut out all other distractions while you are doing them – don’t talk to other people, don’t read or look at F/B or TV, don’t walk around – just eat until you are full and then stop – in the case of smoking, you might notice that the cigarette that you were craving doesn’t actually give you the pleasure you were anticipating and you might only smoke half of it.

For more information on mindfulness, go to my Mindful Self Help page

For more information about stress management go to my Stress Counselling Cork page

For more information about anxiety, go to my Anxiety Counselling Cork page

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