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10 ways to reduce stress

If you’ve burned your own body weight in lavender candles or tried every yoga pose and are still stressed out, perhaps it’s time to try something new, says Helen Foster

by Psychologies

1. Learn Bo-Tau (Breath Optimised Transformational Unblocking)

This technique helps you use your lungs to lower your stress load. ‘When we’re anxious we breathe faster, which lowers levels of calming carbon dioxide in our blood, increasing stress further,’ says neuropsychologist and Bo-Tau creator Dr David Lewis. At its simplest level, Bo-Tau drops the number of breaths you take from an average of 12 to 14 a minute, to just three — inhaling for 5 seconds, holding for 5 seconds, exhaling for 10 seconds. This slows the heartbeat and increases production of calming alpha brainwaves.

2. Have a cup of green tea

Experts in China have found that polyphenols in green tea reduce the damaging impact of stress on the brain while increasing levels of calming chemicals in the body. For maximum chill power, Bruce Ginsberg from tea company Dragonfly suggests using loose tea in a clear teapot, ‘to allow you to see the beautiful patterns and movement as the leaves unfurl’. As the perfect green tea takes one to three minutes to brew, watching the swirling leaves works brilliantly as a mini meditation.

3. Take rhodiola

This serotonin-boosting Russian herb has been used for its pressure-fighting properties in environments as diverse as chilly Siberia and in space. In recent trials at Uppsala University in Sweden it’s been shown to lower cortisol levels and boost concentration even in people diagnosed with burn-out. ‘Rhodiola’s absorption is boosted if you take it with digestive herbs,’ says pharmacist Shabir Dayar from Victoria Health. He advises swallowing supplements with foods that contain black or cayenne pepper or trying blends with added bioaccelerators such as BetterYou StressAway, £10.25 for 60 capsules.

4. Get physical

According to research at the University of Zurich, spending 10 minutes connecting physically in some way with someone before a bad day will lower your levels of stress hormones. The effect is believed to be linked to raised levels of the calming hormone oxytocin, which is released during physical contact. In the trial researchers used head and neck massage but hugging, kissing or holding hands have similar effects.

5. Watch your weight

The more fat your body carries, the more mentally affected by stress you become. ‘Cortisol, the hormone released during stress, affects the parts of the brain used in reasoning, which triggers a decline in cognitive performance,’ says Dr Lilianne Mujica-Parodi from New York’s Stony Brook University. ‘We found that the more fat people carry, the more cortisol they produce, and the worse their mind is affected.’

6. Chew gum

Professor Andrew Scholey from Melbourne’s Swinburne University has found that chewing gum lowers cortisol levels and reduces feelings of anxiety. He believes that chewing stimulates us mentally, making us better able to cope with stress, or ‘it might be that chewing reminds us of relaxing times such as mealtimes’. And the faster you chew, the calmer you’ll get. In Japanese trials rapid chomping cut cortisol levels by 25.8 per cent within 20 minutes; slow chewing resulted in only a 14.4 per cent drop.

7 Walk more slowly T

he faster we walk, the more stressed out we are likely to be, say doctors at California State University. If you don’t find it easy to slow your steps, try a walking meditation. ‘Simply become more aware of the physical act of walking,’ says yoga teacher Heather Mason. Walk slowly, mentally labelling each move as ‘lifting the foot’ or ‘placing the foot’. Focus only on what you’re doing, not on what’s around you. This, says Mason, can be even more calming than sitting meditation. ‘Often when an agitated mind tries to sit still it will find further obsessive thinking occurring,’ she says. ‘But in walking meditation we can draw attention to specific movements and find a sense of calm with less effort and struggle.’

8 Eat a healthy breakfast

The higher the fat content of your breakfast, the worse your reaction to stress will be during the day. Dr Tavis Campbell at the University of Calgary found that people who ate a fast-food, high-fat breakfast had higher blood pressure and a faster heart rate during stress than those who ate cereal and yogurt. ‘Just one high-fat meal reduces the elasticity of the arteries, which would then lead to an increased reaction during pressure,’ he says.

9 Fight it virtually

While computers can be a major source of angst (54 per cent of us shout at them daily, says University of Bolton research), stress busting via your PC is a hot new trend. From US doctors offering meditation spaces in the virtual world Second Life to biofeedback chill-out games such as Healing Rhythms, in which your movements on screen are modified by how calm you become, getting serene at your screen is big news.

10 Get a mantra

Researchers in the US have found that people who spend five weeks practising mantram repetition lower their stress levels by 23.8 per cent — and suffer less insomnia and less rumination over unwanted thoughts. Any phrase will work (in the trial they used ‘take it easy’), but yoga expert Carolyn Cowan says the spiritual phrase ‘ek ong kar, sat gur prasad, sat gur prasad, ek ong kar’ is renowned for its calming properties. ‘Repeating it even just five times will dramatically improve your mood,’ she says.