Feel frantic? Try these easy expert tips to slow down time and help you feel more in control of your life.
- Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford
- Cognitive behavioural therapist Dr Bev McLagan
- Life coach Chris Smith
- Life coach Nina Grunfeld
1 Imagine your way to having more energy
Take a few minutes out and visualise energy flooding into your body. This takes a bit of practice, so start sitting down and taking five slow, deep breaths, with your eyes shut. Then imagine that what you’re breathing in is not just air, but a long wisp of pure, shining, golden energy, and as you hold this inside you, its energy starts to spread through your body. As you breathe out, imagine your breath expelling all the fatigue from your body and mind, getting rid of it like an old puff of grey cloud. Do this for another 10 breaths, and you should feel the benefit.
2 Overwhelmed? Do the right thing, right now
When you feel overwhelmed with too much to do, try to identify the one thing that is causing you most stress, such as an awkward phone call you need to make, and then actually do it. You will feel much better and far less stressed.
3 Be aware of your body
Your body is the best barometer of your psychological state. Tension in your shoulders or head is a physical giveaway of the pictures you’re making in your mind. To pre-empt mental stress, become aware of how your body is feeling. Deliberately relax your jaw, shoulders and neck, and then make your mental pictures positive. You’ll feel the difference.
4 Stand back, to gain perspective
When the pressure is on, take a deep breath and stand back from the situation. Yes, it’s bad right now, but ask yourself, “Will this matter in six months? Or five years?” The answer is very rarely “Yes”.
5 Accept some level of uncertainty
Situations where we feel impotent or have no control are extra stressful – for example, when we’re stuck in a traffic jam or people are compromising our ability to meet a deadline. In these situations, recognise what you can’t change and accept that there’s no shame or guilt in that. Once you do that, you’ll start to regain calm.
6 Tackle something small to see big
When you feel that life is running away from you, stop and take control of a small area of your life in a physical sense, by tidying and sorting out your desk or the bathroom cupboard. Regaining the advantage over even one bit of chaos helps you feel more able to move forward.
This is usually the last thing we feel like doing when stress is mounting, but if you can raise a smile at someone, not only will they smile back, but you’ll feel better, as the mere act of smiling tricks your body into feeling happier.
8 Find your peace point
Acupressure points go by poetic names; the one on the centre of the breastbone, three thumb-widths up from the base of the bone, is called the Sea of Tranquillity. Press down on the little indentation here, using three fingertips along the bone, for two minutes, to help release tension and deepen breathing, which helps soothe your brain and restore calm.
9 Unlock your neck
When we’re stressed, we often get into the habit of jutting our chins forward, particularly in the car or when sitting at a computer. Because the head is so heavy, as soon as it is out of alignment with the spine, it puts extra stress on the neck muscles. To counteract this, try this exercise. Sit tall on a chair against a wall, so that your back and head are both against the wall. Press the underside of your tongue to the roof of your mouth (which unlocks the muscles at the front of the neck) and slowly draw your chin towards your chest, using just the muscles at the back of the neck. It’s a subtle exercise and needs to be done slowly.
10 Break the cycle of negative thoughts
It’s all too easy to get hung up on all the small details that clog up our lives, and let them well up into a bubbling morass. When you catch yourself in a spiral of negative thoughts, take a tip from cognitive behavioural therapy, advises Dr Bev McLagan. “To stop the cycle of constant bad news, look at what you know and what ‘is’, rather than the ‘what if?’.” Then you can focus on potential solutions, rather than finding yourself paralysed by imagining problems you fear may happen.
11 Take pleasure in nature
Taking in a bit of natural scenery will do you more good than you’d imagine. It doesn’t have to mean a 5km forest trek – just taking a short but leisurely stroll in your local park has the same effect. Exponents of ecopsychology, the study of the relationship between the natural world and mental health, have long claimed that even “subtle interactions” with nature can provide a range of benefits, from lifting your mood to decreasing stress. And now this has been proven. A study at the University of Washington found that just looking out of the window on to lovely scenery could lower the heart rate, even when you’re under stress.
12 Gaze into the flame
Meditation is a wonderful thing to master, but most of us, even if we haven’t blanked the possibility as alternative mumbo-jumbo, will go a long way to avoid sitting down and observing our grasshopper minds. Besides, it’s very hard to just sit there and meditate. You need to creep up on the technique in stages, so try this instead… Light a candle and place it on the table in front of you. Sit at the table and watch the candle flame. Concentrate on deep breathing, while watching the changing, flickering flame. Keeping your eyes occupied likes this makes it easier to focus your breathing.
13 Make time to do nothing
- Learn to undo stress: “Our lives are so much about ‘doing’ that our minds become like an over-tight spring, which makes us feel stressed,” observes yoga teacher Amy Ku Redler. It’s important to take a little time to ‘undo’, or ‘not do’ and to allow the mind to just ‘be’. Try sitting quietly and breathing in and out through alternate nostrils. You need to concentrate while doing this, which helps stop the mind from spinning.”
- Learn to ‘be’, not ‘do’: If you’re one of the many for whom busyness has become a way of life, it can be very difficult to just stop. Living a fast-paced life means we often need to give ourselves permission to just ‘be’, rather than ‘do’. Get into the habit of letting that busyness drop away for a few minutes, and bear in mind that relaxation is a habit and, as such, it can be learnt, even if you find it hard at first.
- Trick time: Set your watch 10 minutes fast, and when you need to leave the house or arrive at your next appointment, you will be, well, not laughing, maybe, but not frazzled, either. If things go well (you find your keys and phone; the traffic isn’t backed up), you won’t be in a hurry and might even find a minute to practise ‘being relaxed’ at the other end. And even if you hit the odd hold-ups, you’ll have a bit of leeway built in.
Words Alice Hart-Davis