How can I cope better with everyday stress?

The world’s leading integrative health expert, Dr Andrew Weil, tells us how to combat the effects of feeling overwhelmed by life


How can I cope better with everyday stress?

Many of us work long hours, are under pressure at work and home, and are juggling myriad responsibilities – understandably, this can cause significant stress. Rather than accepting that your life will always be stressful, identify the principal sources of stress in your life and consider what could be changed for the better. 

You might meet with your manager regarding shorter, or more flexible, work hours. If your efforts are unsuccessful or unrealistic, it may be time to look for another job that better fits your needs. While at work, organise your time and workspace as much as possible – clutter adds to stress. When the workday is done, maintain some semblance of organisation, starting with a fixed schedule of sleeping and waking. Healthy sleep enhances emotional wellbeing, while inadequate sleep adversely affects it. 

Eat at regular times, follow a healthy anti-inflammatory diet, and limit alcohol and caffeine, which contribute to irritability and anxiety. A brisk walk at the end of your workday, especially outdoors with family or friends, provides the benefits of aerobic exercise, exposes you to nature, and helps maintain social interaction while dissipating stress. 

Limit time online to prevent information overload and reduce social isolation. Surround yourself with people who are positive. Ask for help if you need it. Laugh – a lot. Practise forgiveness to calm your spirit, and minimise exposure to unpleasant noise. Focus on sources of joy in your life. 

Explore relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, until you find one that works for you. My personal favourite is breath work, and I recommend the 4-7-8 exercise (below), at least twice a day. 

Camomile or passionflower tea can be relaxing, and some patients benefit from the herbs holy basil or valerian. However, I don’t recommend the long-term use of any substance for stress management – it encourages the notion that relief comes from external, rather than internal, sources.

Learn more about optimising emotional wellbeing in my book, Spontaneous Happiness (Hodder Paperbacks, £9.99).

Try 4-7-8 breathing

Sit with your back straight or lie in a comfortable position. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth.

1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘whoosh’ sound.

2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.

4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making the ‘whoosh’ sound to a count of eight. This completes one breath.

5. Inhale again and repeat this breathing cycle three more times – a total of four breaths. 

If you have trouble holding your breath, simply speed up the exercise, but keep to the cadence 4-7-8. The entire exercise takes less than two minutes to complete. Should you continue to feel stressed, wait five minutes and repeat the exercise.

Photograph: iStock