Strategies to destress and unwind

We need stress in our lives – it gets us out of bed in the mornings and keeps us functioning through the day. A life without stress would be very boring but if we are exposed to too much of it we can all experience the physical and mental symptoms that are so common such as headaches, muscle tension, diarrhoea, and shallow breathing.

Short bursts of stress are not dangerous. In fact, we are designed to cope with these and this is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction of our body. Adrenaline and other stress-linked hormones are released into our body to allow us to deal with the immediate problem or (as in the days when we used to hunt our own food) run away as fast as possible. Longer-term or chronic stress however is a slightly different problem and worsens health problems such as insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis and migraines if it is allowed to continue unchecked. The exact reasons for this remain unclear but our usual pace of life now means that many people find it increasingly difficult to ‘switch off’ from their stresses and so feel unwell as a result.

Signs of stress include;

  • Not being able to sleep properly, and lying awake thinking about problems.
  • Poor concentration and increased irritability
  • Drinking excess caffeine or alcohol, and/or smoking more
  • An inability to make decisions, and feeling increasingly frustrated by this
  • Palpitations of the heart, a ‘lump’ in the throat or stomach, dry mouth and slight tremor of the hands.
  • Always feeling that something needs to be done, and that you cannot simply sit and relax by doing nothing.

So, to help deal with your stress – and whether you have five minutes between meetings or a few hours in your day - there are some quick and simple tips that will help bring some calm into your day.

If You Have 5 Minutes Free

Taking a few minutes to actively do nothing at all can help you unwind. Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, you can still relax your mind and body with some simple techniques. If you’re at work, take a quick break from staring at your computer monitor to stand up, stretch, and take a few deep breaths. Or, if you’re waiting for a meeting or for someone, close your eyes, pop in your headphones to listen to music that soothes you, and just take a minute to slow down. A few minutes of deep breathing can also help with the stresses of travelling, before a big presentation, or in any other situation that makes you feel anxious.

If You Have 15 Minutes Free

If you have few more minutes, taking a short walk is a good way to clear your head, even if it’s just around your office building. Getting away from your normal working space allows you to think of other things and even a little bit of exercise helps boost endorphin levels that help lift your mood. You can also use a quarter of an hour to talk to a friend or family member, read a magazine, or make holiday or travel plans – the main point is for you to temporarily get away from any stress that is wearing you down. Even a short break away from work can make you more refreshed when you return, and able to face the rest of the day.

If You Have an Hour Free

When you have his length of time free it allows you the opportunity to do something totally for yourself. Good examples of this would be a quick burst of exercise such as a jog or yoga class, but you could also arrange a coffee with a friend or catch up listening to the music you’ve downloaded but haven’t been able to listen to yet. If you really want to slow down and de-stress in this time, try just sitting by yourself and people-watching while you let your thoughts settle and your stress lift away.

If You Have a Half-Day Free

The next time you have the luxury of a large block of time free – such as half of a weekend day - to yourself then take the opportunity to get away from your usual routine. This can be anything you like – go to a concert, go shopping for yourself, or treat yourself to a massage. Explore outdoors and get some fresh air, spend time in the garden, go jogging, or walk your dog, and if you are able to, leave your mobile phone at home (or put it on silent) to get the most out of your own ‘me’ time.

Although stress is a normal part of lives, make sure it doesn’t take over your life or get out of control. Taking just a few minutes to de-stress is a vital part of looking after yourself and may be some of the best time you ever spend.