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Feeling stressed at work and already worrying about the festive period? Try incorporating our simple stress-busters into your daily routine

It isn’t unusual (especially at this time of year) to feel overwhelmed by everyday pressures. Whatever your personal definition of stress, the charity Mind suggests two approaches to reducing its effect in your life.

The first  step to reducing stress is to manage your environment, so the stressful situation doesn’t happen to you quite so often. This might mean a change of job or living situation. Sometimes, of course, it’s not easy or even possible to do. But the second step is something we can all work on: developing your emotional resilience, so you’re better at coping with tough situations when they happen. Here are a few ways to do that:

SET NEW HABITS

Talk your worries over with someone you can trust.

Set realistic goals and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Try to be a problem solver rather than looking for obstacles, and learn to say no.

Prioritise relaxation. Try yoga, meditation or take time out to have a massage, soak in a hot bath or listen to music. It’s important to do it regularly.

Have a laugh – catch up with friends, go to a comedy show or just dance around the house to some great tunes. Fun is one of the best stress relievers.

GET INTO FITNESS MODE

Exercise at least three times a week. When you exercise, your brain releases hormones that actually help you cope better with stress. Can’t find time? Schedule it into your week, just like any other event. Think of it as an important appointment you need to keep for your wellbeing. It can help to make plans with friends (instead of meeting for mulled wine, why not meet for a crisp winter’s walk?).

Ditch the gruelling workouts. What you do and when, however, is key. ‘Exercise does promote the growth of new brain cells and connections in the rational brain. But we know from studies with mice that only moderate exercise works,’ says Dr Mithu Storoni, neuroscientist and author of Stress Proof: the Scientific Solution to Protect Your Brain and Body and Be More Resilient Every Day. So the sort of gruelling workout some people turn to when stressed – marathon training, doing heavy weights sessions, or cramming high-intensity workouts in around work – can be counterproductive.

‘Exercising vigorously is a stressor in itself, and your cortisol levels will be higher at the end of a workout,’ she says. ‘There’s even evidence that doing intense exercise straight after an episode of acute stress can cause a heart attack. Instead, you need to detach your mind by doing a mentally intense activity. Then move into a lower-intensity activity for a longer duration – such as a long, brisk walk or a good yoga class.’

Go for a walk after meals. ‘Gentle activity, such as a 15-minute walk, helps your body to regulate its insulin production, which can be disturbed by stress,’ says Mithu. ‘And break up sedentary work time with a five-minute walk or three minutes of squats and calf raises every half hour.’

IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY

Get enough shut-eye. It helps to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time over the week (including the weekend). Set an alarm for bedtime if necessary, and start your wind-down routine at the same time every evening.

Cut stimulation. Switch all screens off before you start your wind-down and avoid exercising too close to bedtime. Don’t have caffeine after 3pm if you know it affects your sleep – it can take up to eight hours to leave your system.

REARRANGE YOUR WORK DAY

Get up five or 10 minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush.

Set aside time for dealing with emails, so your inbox isn’t constantly distracting you from the task at hand.

Break large projects down into small, manageable steps. Write a simple to-do list rather than listing big or open-ended tasks that never feel achievable.

Spend a few minutes at the end of the day preparing for the next.

Take time out and have a breather once in a while.

PRACTISE DEEP BREATHING

Try diaphragmatic (deep belly) breathing. It almost seems too good to be true but just breathing in this way really can reduce stress. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us relax. Try this simple exercise whenever you feel stress levels rising:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. If that isn’t possible, sit on a chair with your arms resting at your sides and your feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor.
  2. Keep your spine tall but soft, as if a string is pulling you from the top of your head towards the ceiling. Think length.
  3. Observe the hiss of your breath as you inhale and exhale.
  4. Exhale fully, but softly, using your abdominal muscles to empty the breath.
  5. Inhale long and deep through your nose, feeling the breath fill the back of
your ribcage and all the way down into your abdomen, without forcing it.
  6. Exhale fully, using your abdominal muscles to empty the breath. Continue breathing like this for 1–2 min.

Read more of our tips on enjoying a stress-free Christmas.