If you're one of the many that feel overwhelmed, these tips can help. Don't forget: if stress is severe or you suffer from panic attacks, talk to your doctor.
Learn to spot the signs of stress
Learn to recognise your warning signals before you get stress overload. Common symptoms are dry mouth, clammy hands, racing heart, feeling tense, tiredness, headaches, digestive problems, loss of sex drive, sleep problems, skin outbreaks, irritability, poor concentration and difficulty in making decisions.
Don't ignore symptoms
You may be tempted to plough on, but stress is a sign you need to look more closely at your life. Like pain, stress should be viewed as a warning. If you are extremely tense and anxious, you should try to establish why. Learning how to manage stress will only do half the job if you don't try to sort out its source. There is a limit to the amount of stress we can take. Too much stress can leave us open to physical and mental problems - or even cause a break down.
Not all stress relief is good
Some of the things we do to relieve stress, like smoking and drinking, can be as bad for our health as the stress itself. Medicines used to be prescribed for stress, but tranquillisers and sedatives are addictive and should never be taken for more than two to four weeks. Instead, try to find natural ways of reducing tension.
Keep a stress-busting notebook
Use a notebook to record stressful moments. Write down and rate each one: give one asterisk to the least stressful times and five to the most stressful. The results are often surprising. For example, you may think your job is the problem, but find your overloaded weekends are the worst. You can then put in place solutions such as using the Internet for supermarket shopping.
Slow your breathing
Stress often leads to over-breathing. If you take more than 10 breaths per minute, practise this exercise four times a day. Breathe in. Hold your breath and count slowly to three (do not take a deep breath). When you get to three, breathe out for three seconds and say the word relax to yourself. This will produce a breathing rate of 10 breaths per minute.
Take regular breaks at work
Many people work long hours. Sometimes this can't be avoided, but taking sufficient breaks can go a long way to combating stress. Sitting at your desk all day every day will result in poor performance, so try to take regular breaks at work and at least a 30-minute break for lunch. No matter how busy you are, make sure there are times when your mobile is off and you leave your laptop at work.
Creative right-brain thinking can switch off stress. So draw, paint or take up a hobby such as creative writing, dressmaking or photography.
Look at exercise levels
Aerobic exercise, three times a week, improves mood and lowers blood pressure and stress symptoms. This is because it encourages the release of endorphins, which are your body's natural feel-good hormones. Many types of exercise are aerobic, such as dance and body combat classes, but walking, running, swimming and cycling also count.
Get a pet
Research carried out by psychologist Dr David Lewis found that stroking a dog was one of the best ways to relieve stress. And it seems the longer the dog's hair, the greater the calming effect. Dog owners in the study also reported lower stress levels in general than their pet-free counterparts. But if owning a pet is out of the question, put on some soothing music - it came second in the study as a stress buster.
Try the 10-minute chill out
Sit or lie down quietly for 10 minutes to clear your head of clutter and fill it instead with pleasant, tranquil thoughts. You shouldn't read, watch TV or walk around. Just be - and let your mind drift. You may find repeating a mantra while you do this helps to clear your mind. A mantra just means a special word of your choice. The word is usually a sound that has no particular meaning.
Don't underestimate fresh air
Most of us feel more tranquil outdoors, so use your weekends to get more fresh air by visiting the countryside, coast or city parks. Walking in these natural environments soothes body and mind because noise levels are lower, while trees generate oxygen and soak up carbon dioxide.
Pay attention to your sleep levels
Don't oversleep at the weekend - keeping to a regular schedule of between six and eight hours' sleep per night preserves energy levels. And if you want to feel on top of your game all day, get to bed by midnight.
Keep a stress-busting timetable
|Time||My plan||What actually happened|
- Use this table to assess where you are overcrowding your life and expecting too much of yourself.
- Each day, write what you think you are going to do in the 'My plan' column.
- At the end of each day, fill in what actually happened.
- Compare the two columns.
- Try to draw up this daily timetable for at least a fortnight.
You may find you have forgotten to allow any time for some things or allocated insufficient time for others. Gradually you'll learn to plan appropriately, and when you do, you'll find that your life becomes less stressful.
Pick your battles
You shouldn't feel you have to keep every negative thought inside, but be careful which grievances you choose to air because the fallout from speaking up can make you feel more, not less, stressed.
When tackling an issue, think about how you will phrase your comments before you open your mouth. A smile or light tone as you address the problem can go a long way to raising an issue in a friendly way that encourages resolution rather than hostility.
Small steps can help
Little things can make us less stressed. You can improve your stress levels by listening to an audiobook or reading on your daily commute, meeting up with loved ones more regularly, making time for your leisure interests or trying something new.
Change what you can, accept what you can't
Negative thinking can cause stress and low mood regardless of how well life is going. But the worst doesn't always happen; you don't always deserve what your friend/neighbour/family has; we all fail sometimes. Keep things in perspective by drawing up a list of what makes you unhappy. Think of steps you can take to improve things and accept the things you can't.