Stress busting activities

A survey by the Australian Psychological Society found that one in four of us reports suffering moderate to severe levels of stress, with family issues, money worries, work, grief, illness and moving house cited as the leading causes.

Stress can lead to a number of health issues so it’s essential to learn how to handle it before it gets out of control.

Below are eight simple stress-busters to help you get a little more Zen.

1. Get regular exercise

Hopefully you’re already doing this but you can add to the stress-busting effect by getting out in nature and running in green spaces or, even better, by water. Studies from America have shown that exercising in natural environments is associated with greater feelings of revitalisation and increased energy together with a reduction in tension, confusion, anger and depression.

2. Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present – sights, sounds, smells, sensations and emotions – rather than fretting about the past or the future. It’s useful for coping with all kinds of stressful situations as it teaches you to recognise when your mind is chattering and when you need to bring it back to being still and calm.

Eating mindfully encourages us to properly smell, taste and savour our food which encourages good choices and prevents over-eating. You can even run mindfully, being aware of the way your foot lands on the ground, the fresh air on your face, and the path in front of you.

3. Stop unhelpful self-talk

Negativity can add to stress so if you catch yourself muttering phrases like: ‘I can’t cope’, or ‘I’m so tired’, replace them with: ‘I’m coping really well considering what’s on my plate’, or ‘Breathe easy.’

4. Breathe

When everything else is out of control, you can always take charge of your breathing. Practise a slow breathing technique when you are calm so that you can use it more effectively if panic or stress are starting to overwhelm you. To begin, breathe in and hold for six seconds. After that start breathing in six-second cycles – in for three seconds and out for three seconds. Continue for three minutes, extending to five over time.

5. Relax your muscles

Lie down and, starting with your toes, tense then relax them. After that move up through the feet, calves, thighs, glutes and sequentially up the whole of your body, tensing and relaxing each set of muscles in turn until you have created a state of total body relaxation.

6. Stock up on healthy snacks

Stress often leads to emotional eating so instead of finishing up a packet of chocolate biscuits which will only make you feel worse, make sure your fridge is packed with delicious, healthy treats – smoked salmon, avocado, nuts, watermelon or a tasty dip with vegetable crudités work a treat.

7. Spend time with people who care

Being with people who you care about and who care about you in return is really important in managing stress as it enables you to share your feelings when opportunities arise rather than bottling them up.

8. Develop relaxing hobbies

This might be a gentle yoga class, gardening or art – anything that is absorbing and peaceful. Scientists have also found that listening to music that starts at around 60 bpm and then gradually decreases to 50 bpm can slow your heart rate, reduce blood pressure and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.

Now you know where to start, give one of these a try the next time you feel those stress levels rising.