Five ways to de-stress in five minutes

How you can harness the powers of your senses to beat daily stress, by Sarah Touquet.

We all know stress can sometimes be good for us. It’s that old chestnut – the flight or fight impulse – that sharpens our senses and gets us out of dangerous situations.

But stress in the workplace is no joke. According to the latest Labour Force Survey, stress accounted for 45% of all working days lost to ill health in the UK in 2015/16. And nearly a quarter of us work more than 45 hours a week. 
We can’t avoid stress entirely but we can develop coping strategies such as regular exercise, a good diet and getting quality sleep.

 There are also quick fixes you can use when stressful situations threaten to scupper your day. Be in tune with your senses and choose a fix to suit you …

1. Give yourself a hand massage

To feel relaxed and to lift energy levels, masseur Rob Bank suggests a simple hand massage using acupressure points to unblock the flow of qi. “Place your left hand on a table, palm upwards, fingers spread. Applying firm pressure, dab your right index finger down on to the tip of your left hand’s little finger, working down the finger to the base of the palm. This should take about seven ‘dabs’. Repeat on the ring and middle fingers. For the index finger and thumb, go the other way, starting from the base of the palm and working upwards. Do this twice on both hands.” Need a quicker fix? With your finger and thumb squeeze hard on the fleshy ‘join’ between the other finger and thumb.

2. Listen to your breathing

“Deep breathing is a great way to reduce tension and unclutter the mind,” says Adrian Webster, one of the UK’s top motivational speakers. “Try this simple technique called 7-11. You breathe in for seven seconds and breathe out for 11. The key is to breathe out longer than you breathe in.” Or pop on some music. It is common knowledge that any music, particularly classical, has a soothing effect but a study from Queensland University found that extreme music such as metal and punk can help process anger and inspire calmness. So, if you are feeling angry and frustrated, try swapping Mozart for a burst of Metallica. 

3. Inhale soothing thoughts

The olfactory bulbs are directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, the areas of the brain that process emotion and memory. This is why certain smells can trigger strong feelings and why aromatherapy products are so effective. For a quick energy boost put a couple of drops of essential oil on a cotton wool ball and sniff when you need it. Rose relieves stress, frankincense will relax, lavender will soothe. Or keep a pot of your favourite herbs to hand. Rosemary and mint are a great pick-me-up and the scent of basil has a wonderful calming effect. Pick off a leaf, squeeze and sniff before that difficult meeting.


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4. Eat chocolate

Go on, have a piece. Good chocolate – that’s the stuff that is 70% cocoa or more – can boost your mood. That’s because it contains phenylethylamine, which stimulates your brain to release feel-good endorphins. Chocolate is also stuffed with potassium, zinc, selenium and iron. A study in the international research journal Appetite found that regular chocolate consumption improves cognitive function too. Non-chocoholics should nibble avocados and almonds, which are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins.

5. Visualise your walk

A walk in the fresh air is the best way to clear your mind but if you can’t do that, go on an imaginary walk instead. “Visualisation can be very powerful,” says psychotherapist Christine Webber. “Find somewhere neutral to sit, such as the stairs – not your desk. Think of a favourite place and go for a mind stroll. Picture yourself walking down that lane as if you have a camera on your head. Get lost in side streets. Savour the experience. Let things settle for a couple of minutes and you’ll be ready for reality again.”

What to know more?

For more mindfulness techniques go to christinewebber.com and for motivational tips visit www.adrianwebster.com

For advice on how to recognise and cope with stress visit mental health charity Mind’s website: www.mind.org.uk

If you feel that your stress levels are high, remember that as a Benenden member you can access the 24/7 mental health helpline. Call 0800 414 8247 to access this service, with your membership number to hand.