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The importance of stress relief

The importance of stress relief
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Stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not. We don’t always have control over what happens to us, says Allen Elkin, PhD. Yet, that doesn’t mean we have to react to a difficult situation by becoming frazzled or feeling overwhelmed or distraught. Being overly anxious is not just a mental hazard; it’s a physical one too, with damaging effects to the brain and the rest of the body. The more stressed out we are, the more vulnerable we are to colds, flu and a host of chronic or life-threatening illnesses – and the less open we are to the beauty and pleasure of life.

Breathe easily

Breathe easily
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Breathing is so innate that most of us don’t even pay attention to how we do it, but there is a way to breathe for better health and for stress management. “Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantly,” says Robert Cooper, PhD, co-author of The Power of 5, a book of five-second and five-minute health tips. Shallow chest breathing, by contrast, can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.

Follow these 10 habits of people who never get stressed. 

Visualise calm

Visualise calm
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It sounds New Age-y, but at least one study, done at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, has found that it’s highly effective in reducing stress. Dr Cooper recommends imagining you’re in a hot shower and a wave of relaxation is washing your stress down the drain. Gerald Epstein, MD, author of Healing Visualisations, suggests the following routine: Close your eyes; take three long, slow breaths; and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details – the sights, the sounds, the smells.

Teach yourself how to meditate to beat stress. 

Make time for a mini self-massage

Make time for a mini self-massage
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Maria Hernandez-Reif, PhD, recommends simply massaging the palm of one hand by making a circular motion with the thumb of the other. Or use a massage gadget that allows you to massage hard-to-reach spots on your back.

Learn how to give yourself a face massage.

Say cheese

Say cheese
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Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we’re relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. “Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional centre in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm,” Dr Cooper explains. Go ahead and grin.

Do some math

Do some math
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Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the equivalent of a minor hassle and 10 being a true catastrophe, assign a number to whatever it is that’s making you feel anxious. “You’ll find that most problems we encounter rate somewhere in the two to five range – in other words, they’re really not such a big deal,” says Dr Elkin.

Speaking of maths, follow these 5 tips to help your kids deal with exam stress. 

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Stop gritting your teeth

Stop gritting your teeth
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Stress tends to settle in certain parts of our bodies, the jaw being one of them. When things get hectic, try this tip from Dr Cooper: Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your ears; clench your teeth and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment, and as you exhale say, “Ah-h-h-h,” then unclench your teeth. Repeat a few times and you’ll be managing stress better in no time.

Compose a mantra

Compose a mantra
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Devise an affirmation – a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities. “Affirmations are a good way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress,” Dr Elkin says. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, “I feel calm. I can handle this.”

Here are 16 science-backed ways to overcome depression naturally. 

Check your chi

Check your chi
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Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is a 5,000-year-old Chinese practice designed to promote the flow of chi, the vital life force that flows throughout the body, regulating its functions. Qigong master Ching-Tse Lee, PhD and a professor of psychology, recommends this calming exercise for stress management: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel. Bend your knees to a quarter-squat position (about 45 degrees) while keeping your upper body straight. Observe your breathing for a couple of breaths. Inhale and bring your arms slowly up in front of you to shoulder height with your elbows slightly bent. Exhale, stretching your arms straight out. Inhale again, bend your elbows slightly and drop your arms down slowly until your thumbs touch the sides of your legs. Exhale one more time, then stand up straight. If you think this sounds similar to yoga, you’d be right.

Try these 4 soothing yoga poses to help you sleep. 

Be a fighter

Be a fighter
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“At the first sign of stress, you often hear people complain, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’” says Dr Cooper. The trouble is, feeling like a victim only increases feelings of stress and helplessness. Instead, focus on being proactive. If your flight gets cancelled, don’t wallow in self-pity. Find another one. If your office is too hot or too cold, don’t suffer in silence. Call the building manager and ask what can be done to make things more comfortable.

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