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Reduce Stress to
The Stress Management Society‟s Guide to
Reducing Stress and Promoting Wellbeing
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What is stress?
Stress at work
Health and nutrition
Desk yoga and breathing techniques
Massage away your anxiety
Guided imagery techniques
The ten step guide
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Stress is the driving force that keeps us on our toes and ensures that we push to be the best we can
be. However that is only valid up to a certain point. If we have too much stress and endless wear and
tear, it can drive us into physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
Certainly we can‟t avoid the problem. Situations arise on a day to day basis which make physical
mental and emotional demands on us. There may be decisions that need to be made, deadlines that
need to be met, lessons to be learned. Unreasonable stress affects one in five of the working
So a sensible response would be to learn to manage it better.
Therefore it is imperative to strike the right balance. As individuals, we must take stock of all aspects
of our life and situations and learn to cope better. Treat it early, and your prospects are good. But
ignore the problem, and there is a risk that „burnout‟ may become a permanent state of affairs.
This book is designed to give you some of the answers, with background information about stress,
plus some practical suggestions on diet, relaxation and lifestyle changes.
For more information, go to www.stress.org.uk or call the Stress Management Society on
0800 327 7697.
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Stress. We all suffer from it and know what it feels like. So you‟d think it‟d be easy to define.
But finding an adequate definition is harder than you think.
Scientists have certainly tried. Over the last 100 years, much research has been conducted into stress
in order to define it accurately and at times we‟ve seen the scientific equivalent of open warfare
between those holding competing theories and definitions. Some of these theories have been
debunked over time, but a couple still hold fast.
Fight or flight
Walter Cannon‟s early research on stress in 1932 established the existence of the “fight-or-flight”
response. Cannon showed that when an organism experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it
quickly releases hormones that help it to survive.
In humans, as in animals, these hormones help the organism to run faster and fight harder. They
increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power important
muscles. They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay efficient. They
divert blood away from the skin to the core of our bodies, reducing blood loss if we are damaged. As
well as this, these hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else. All
of this significantly improves our ability to survive life-threatening events.
It‟s not just life-threatening events that trigger this reaction. Even relatively minor frustrations or
unexpected events can prompt it, although when the threat is small our response is small. Therefore
we often may not notice it amid the many other distractions of a stressful situation.
Modern day responses
Unfortunately, mobilising the body for survival situations also has negative
consequences. In this state, we are excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable. This
reduces our ability to work effectively. With trembling and a pounding heart, we
can find it difficult to execute precise, controlled skills. Focusing on survival
interferes with our ability to make fine judgments by drawing information from
many sources. We find ourselves more accident-prone and less able to make
There are very few situations in modern working life where this response is
useful. Most situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and socially
In the short term, we need to keep this fight-or-flight response under control to
be effective in our jobs. In the long term we need to keep it under control to
avoid problems of poor health and burnout.
A positive force
Dr Hans Selye was another founding father of stress research. His research led him to conclude in
1956 that the biochemical effects of stress would be experienced, irrespective of whether the
situation was positive or negative.
He went even further, stating that: “Stress is not necessarily something bad – it all depends on how
you take it. The stress of exhilarating, creative successful work is beneficial, while that of failure,
humiliation or infection is detrimental.”
However in mainstream society, stress is now viewed as a "bad thing", with a range of harmful
biochemical and long-term effects. These effects have rarely been observed in positive situations.
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So a modern definition…
The most commonly accepted definition of stress nowadays is that stress is a condition or feeling
experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the
individual is able to mobilise.” In addition, we also recognise that there is an intertwined instinctive
stress response to unexpected events. The stress response inside us is therefore part instinct and
part to do with the way we respond to situations.
Before we begin looking at stress, it may be helpful for you to think about how the problem affects
your life. That way you will get the most out of this book as you go through it.
1) What does stress mean to you?
2) What is the cause?
3) How does it affect you:
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4) How often?
5) How could you deal with it?
6) How have you been dealing with until now?
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT YOU?
We encounter sources of stress every day of our lives and at every
stage of human development. They change depending on what time of
life we are at:
Think about the kind of stresses we go through:
As a toddler
As a teenager
At middle age
At retirement/old age
There are specific stresses associated with all these life stages – from
learning social skills and dealing with hormones to career changes, ageing and financial worries.
However we also experience stress when we experience significant change that requires some sort of
adaptation. Changing environments, technology and life events are all key factors.
In addition there can be many kinds of internal conflicts that cause stress. The most common one is
conflict between some emotion or desire and prohibitive internal voice eg, „I want to‟ versus „I
mustn‟t‟ or between a reluctance to do something and an internalised sense of duty – an „I don‟t want
to‟ versus „I should‟.
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The body‟s reaction to stress and relaxation
The physical effects of stress on the human body are well documented. Some changes are subtle,
some are obvious, but they are often there whether you notice them or not.
Stress undoubtedly makes people ill. It is now known to contribute to heart disease, hypertension and
high blood pressure, affects the immune system, is linked to strokes, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome),
ulcers, diabetes, muscle and joint pain, miscarriage, allergies, alopecia and even premature tooth loss.
When you‟re stressed and in fight/flight mode
Often the first reaction is a feeling of tension, apprehension and worry. Then we see behavioural and
physiological changes such as trembling, palpitations or dizziness plus symptoms of anxiety. You
An increased heart rate
A dry mouth
A tense forehead
Shallow and fast breathing
Strain in the eyes
Clenched jaws and teeth
Disruption of the facial complexion
Feelings of anger or hostility
Closing of blood vessels leading to poor circulation
Tightness of the skin
Increased white blood cell count
Increased blood sugar
Increased blood pressure
Suspension of the digestive system and „butterflies‟ in the stomach
A relaxed bladder
Stay in this state for a prolonged period, and all your energy goes on dealing with regulating these
body changes. Physically you end up exhausted and depressed. Chronic stress can lead to even worse
conditions such as back problems, heart problems, migraine, asthma, digestive problems, skin
conditions and allergies.
When you‟re relaxed
Being in a relaxed and rested state, however, brings all sorts of physical and psychological benefits, for
example you experience:
A decreased heart rate
Slow and deep breathing
Normal function of blood vessels and circulation
Normal saliva function, aiding digestion
Relaxed facial muscles
Normal function of the pupils and eyes
Inhibited production of white blood cells
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced blood sugar leading to stable eating patterns
Normal function of the sweat glands
A contracted bladder
Restful and calm feelings
Remember it is physically impossible to be anxious and relaxed at the same time.
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Types of stress
A cause of stress is known as a stressor. It can be internal (infection or inflammation, an anxious
outlook or a poor diet) or external (stressful working conditions or bullying). Stressors can also be
looked at as either short-term or long-term. Short-term 'acute' stress is the reaction to an immediate
threat – the fight or flight response. When the threat subsides, the body returns to normal. Long-
term or 'chronic' stressors are long-term pressures. These are particularly worrying because they are
the ones that cause lasting damage to the body.
STRESS AT WORK
Workplace stress is a serious issue for UK employers. It is an issue that has no respect for position
or seniority – it is just as likely to affect a new recruit in the post room as the chief executive.
In fact, it already does: it is now the single biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK and costs UK
industry £3.7 billion each year. In the UK over 13 million working days are lost every year because of
stress. Stress is believed to trigger 70% of visits to doctors, and 85% of serious illnesses (UK HSE
It actually makes good sense for employers to tackle stress at work. Stressed „companies‟ have lower
productivity and increased management pressures. Workplace stress affects how well staff perform
including memory, concentration and the ability to learn.
When you think that one in five people at work report it as a problem, you can see how much
companies have to gain by dealing with the issue; they could cut significant amounts of staff sickness,
absence and management time and improve morale. In employer terms, that‟s like winning the
On the other hand, companies are also risking a lot by not dealing with stress at work. Disgruntled
employees can – and do – take them to court. Businesses in this situation could face significant
damages, bad publicity and loss of reputation.
Stress and professions
In the UK, the Health & Safety Executive publishes data on the most stressful professions. Top of the
table are nursing and teaching, with 2% of workers at any one time suffering from serious work-
related stress, depression and anxiety. Next come care workers, managers and professionals. Here
1% suffer from serious work-related stress at any one time. The HSE data reveals that work-related
stress affects men and women equally. However there is a period at work when it becomes a
particular problem – from the age of 45 to retirement.
What the law says
Legislation covering stress at work is surprisingly piecemeal. There‟s no one piece of law that covers
it. Instead, protection comes from a wide range of regulations:
The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to provide a workplace that is
safe and healthy.
The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to be
more active about identifying risks through risk assessment of health and safety issues, including
stress and make sure there are adequate controls in place to deal with the issue.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 limit the working week to 48 hours. However many
companies may ask employees to waive their right to be governed by this piece of legislation,
which is legal.
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The Health & Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 state that employers
should risk assess the use of display screen equipment in their companies.
New guidelines from the Health & Safety Executive
However in the last couple of years there has been a major step forward for companies and
employees wanting a formal structure to tackle stress in the workplace. The Health & Safety
Executive has issued new guidelines on the problem to help employers meet their legal obligations.
Its Management Standards set out a structure showing how to risk-assess a company for stress, and
how to tackle any problems identified as needing action.
The Standards look at several areas: the demands made on employees; the level of control employees
have over their work; the support employees receive from managers and colleagues; the clarity of an
employee's role within the organisation; the nature of relationships at work; and the way that change
The Standards are designed to build a structure that lets employers take care of stress at work. They
let you easily identify current performance, judge how this differs from benchmark standards, and
develop solutions to close the gap.
However as most employers and employees know, stress does not start and stop at the office door.
It is therefore prudent to train managers in spotting the signs of stress, and helping them learn to be
sympathetic to people when home problems 'leak' into the work environment.
Bearing in mind the Health & Safety Executive guidelines, the Stress Management Society advises
companies in the following way:
1. Conduct a stress audit - Use existing data to judge your current position, such as exit
interviews and sickness, absence and staff turnover records. Start surveying staff as to their
attitude and experience of stress at work, eg through the HSE survey, measuring performance
against the six Management Standards (see www.hse.gov.uk/stress). Or call in a consultant to
coordinate a company-wide stress audit.
2. Write a stress policy - Now you know your issues, tackle them through a comprehensive
stress policy. Write this yourself, or ask your consultant to do it. The policy should cover stress
and mental health policies and must comply with HSE guidelines.
3. Train staff - Company-wide training will be helpful to all. It gives employees the stress-
management techniques they need in their day-to-day jobs. And it helps managers understand the
company‟s new stress policy, not only recognising stress symptoms in colleagues, but knowing
how to react appropriately.
4. Get some support - Use stress-management products to support your company stress policy.
Consider a stress monitor machine for communal staff areas, stress balls printed with a
corporate message, or 'mood cards' with a stress monitor the size of a business card that can be
used time and time again. For these and other ideas, see www.stressmoodcards.com or
So what are you doing about it?
If you consider yourself stressed at work, it is important to do something. It is not worth risking your
health just because of your job. After all, no-one at the end of their life ever said “I wish I‟d worked
Also if you work with other people, learn to recognise the symptoms of stress in others and if
necessary refer the problem upwards to someone who can deal with it. Not only is it the ethical thing
to do, to help a colleague. But it will also benefit you too, improving your working environment.
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How to spot stress at work
These are some traditional causes of stress at work:
unreasonable demands in the job
feeling out of control of your destiny
a feeling of being under-appreciated
uncertainty about job security
difficulty with communication
difficulty with resolving problems
bullying or harassment
Certain factors may indicate a potential problem.
An increase in sick leave
More accidents at work
Arguments and disputes between people
A tendency to work late and not take breaks
A loss of sense of humour, replaced by irritability
A tendency to suffer from headaches, nausea, aches and pains, tiredness and poor sleeping
A decrease in work standards
Indecisiveness and poor judgement
A problem with drinking or drug taking
You can take a fuller stress test at the Stress Management Society website – go to
http://www.stress.org.uk/stress-assessment.aspx and sign up to our Stress and Health Assessment
If stress is a factor, identify the cause of the stress and – if it is work related – do everything you can
to solve it. That might mean dealing with the thing causing the stress, or moving yourself away from
Advice for managers
If you are trying to help someone who you think is suffering from stress, remember that a person in
this position is in full „fight or flight‟. They will be unable to deal with the problem on their own. In
fact, they may strenuously deny they have a problem at all and be very sceptical about offers of help.
And if you are the person‟s manager, you may be causing the stress yourself.
Therefore involve your staff in discussions about stress and ask for openness with you about
problems. You can gauge a lot in a relaxed environment by asking a simple question – “What are the
three „best‟ and three „worst‟ aspects of your job?” But tread carefully. Talk to your HR department
about the best way of approaching the problem. Or talk to a professional organisation such as the
Stress Management Society for help and advice.
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Yoga is an ancient practice, believed to be 5,000 years old. In its purest form,
those practicing yoga aim to tone the body in order to quell the mind so that
they can ultimately come to know the nature of consciousness. If you like,
yoga is the art and science of happiness. Throughout the years, the practice
has been scientifically tested and found to be quantifiably beneficial to the
mind and body.
Following are a few exercises to open the chest, allowing you to breathe better and stack the spine
thereby improving posture, mood and confidence.
The warm up
The Pawanmukhtasan series (Freedom Breath)
This series is designed to free energetic blockages in the body in areas particularly affected by stress.
It is important in all yoga practise to keep your body aligned. This is to allow energy to flow freely,
encountering as few bends and blockages as possible. In this series feet will be hip width or shoulder
width apart. The yogis say that the left side of the body is the female or “yin” side. It is the receptive,
dynamic side. The right is the giving, male static strong energy side. Generally, you stand with feet
apart so as not to create a short circuit at the very base of the body. You also need to lock the core
muscles, thus strengthening back and stomach muscles.
Stand with feet close together
Lock the core muscles. Belly goes to back of spine, perineum is engaged
Close the eyes and observe balance
It is natural to waiver. This shows an active mind
Inhale and exhale consciously
Bring hands to prayer at heart centre. Check balance
Bring hands to throat centre. Check Balance
Bring hands to 3rd
eye centre. Check Balance
Bring hands to crown. Check Balance
Remember where you waiver the most is where your source of anxiety lies
Stand with feet hip width apart
Make sure the core muscles are locked and you are standing tall
Place your fingertips on your shoulders. Elbows point to the sides
Inhale, rotate and raise elbows up
Exhale, rotate and lower the elbows
Do ten times
Benefits - opens out the chest thereby making you breathe better; stacks the spine; releases energetic
blockages; is helpful in cervical spondylitis
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Stand with feet hip width apart
Raise arms shoulder height and straight out at the sides
Heels of the palms pointing to either wall, fingers together, pointing up to ceiling
Start rotating 10 x tiny pulses.
10 x small
10 x medium small
10 x medium
10 x large
10 x flying
Slow it right down so that the movement is as long as the inhalation
Imagine you are on the first day of a long holiday. You are supremely happy
Take ten long breaths
Reverse all the way back to little pulses
Benefits - works the arms; releases blockages
Stand tall, core locked
Stretch arms in front of you at shoulder height
Hands should be open palm up
As you exhale bring finger to touch shoulder
10 x on each side
Note - if pregnant, do with single arm raises
Stand tall. Core muscles locked
Interlock fingers and straighten arms. Turn out palms to face ceiling
Inhale and exhale feel the length of spine. Inhale
On the exhale, bend to the side, keeping hips still, only working waist and side of ribs
Inhale. Exhale over to the other side
Do 10 x then exhale once and hold, once more and hold and once more and hold
Inhale and repeat on opposite side
Benefits - opens up the ribs, thereby allowing you to breathe deeper; tones the waist and hips; stretches whole
of trunk and stacks spine.
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Note – not to be done if you are pregnant
Find your breastplate, where the ribs meet
Put three or four finger lengths under the breast plate
Jab thumb in at that level. If it hurts you have found it
Massage both clockwise and anti clockwise
After, place palm on massaged point and inhale, belly pumps out, exhale, belly contracts. Close the
eyes to perceive changes.
Benefits - your diaphragm is the first place to feel stress. It tenses up and you lean forward and start taking
stress in shoulders and neck – where you feel it first. Your biography becomes your biology for however long
and you can release negative feelings simply by massaging this spot. You have years of memories stored here.
Start by standing tall. Core muscles locked
Exhale and in triple slow motion drop chin
In circular motion, roll neck in 360 degrees inhaling as you look up, exhaling as you look down.
Benefits - releases blockages in neck. Be aware of the crunchies in the neck and send your attention there.
Remember where the attention goes, energy flows. This is healing energy so, simply by being aware, you heal
Neck Exercise 2
In rapid but gentle movements, following the chin
Look twice to the left
Twice to the right
Two oblique left
Two oblique right
Benefits - relieves crunchies in the neck; arouses the third eye; wakes up the mind
The “HA” exercise – Kastha Takshanasana
Variation of wood chopper
Squat with your feet flat on ground if possible, keep thighs and shins in contact
Inhale, interlock fingers and raise your arms up straight. Lift slightly off the shins
Exhale with a “HA!” and bring the arms down to the ground in front of you as though chopping
Do 6 x
Benefits - relieves anger and stress (works on Swaddisthana Chakra); loosens and tones pelvis; tones muscles
behind shoulder blades
Squat down, knees and feet aligned
Inhale up into star and grin like you really mean it!
Exhale down into squat
Benefits - though this looks ridiculous, it is extremely effective at releasing pheromones. It WILL improve your
mood. It pumps your body with oxygen and because the heart pumps harder energy moves faster. Also tones
legs and arms and wakes you up.
Squat with feet shoulder width
Grab insteps of feet, upper arms press on inside of knees. Look up
Exhale, straighten knees and look down (forward bend)
DO NOT STRAIN
Hold breath for 3 seconds
Benefits - tonic for nerves and muscles in thighs, knees, shoulders. Pelvis is massaged. Spine is stretched evenly
as the distance between vertebrae is even.
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Analoma Valoma (alternate nostril breathing)
Place a finger under your nostrils and exhale through nostrils. One nostril will be working harder than
the other. This changes according to activity and it swaps throughout the day.
Put hands in Vishnu Mudra – index and middle finger are folded on right hand.
Tap up right nostril with left thumb.
Inhale from left nostril to the count of four.
Gently pinch the left nostril with right ring finger to the count of 16.
Exhale through right nostril for 8.
Inhale through the right for 4.
Hold for 16.
Exhale through left for 8.
Benefits - balances the serotonin, the chemical that regulates happiness, in your brain. Inhaling for four then
holding means that the air is pushed down to the bottom of lung. Exhaling for double means that more toxins
are released thus cleaning the lungs. You will feel very relaxed after this exercise, particularly in the shoulder
area. Heightens perception.
Not to be done by manic depressives, epileptics, people with high blood pressure or those suffering from a
Sit in a comfortable position – either on the knees or cross legged
Inhale and raise arms out sideways, Diaphragm descends, belly pumps out
Exhale and bend arms in to ribs
We will be repeating this 30 x slow, medium and fast.
Benefits - The benefits are huge. This protects against airborne diseases; tones the heart; burns toxins;
increases exchange of O2 and CO2 in bloodstream, thus stimulating metabolism. Excellent for asthmatics.
Balances nervous system.
Wipe off practice
Stress is often caused by our reactions to other people. If you are at loggerheads with someone, you
can literally change perspective by simply looking out of a window at something further away and
doing Analoma Valoma.
If you have to deal with a bullying boss, a catty colleague or frustrating time, missed deadlines etc,
often you feel this negativity clinging to you. It does. You do not have to wear other people‟s issues.
So wipe them off. Wipe them off your arms, torso, legs and especially off your head. You do not need
to carry this. As you wipe, say to yourself, I am getting rid of “XXX”.
The Salt Bath
Salt is a conductor of energy. If you have had a REALLY bad day, take a salt bath. It purifies your body,
protects the skin but also carries away negative vibes. Make sure you moisturize afterwards.
The Rubber Aura
If you are being bullied at work or have to deal with jealous colleague, imagine you have a rubber
aura. Their negativity will bounce off you. You refuse to deal with their problems of their own making.
If they are sapping your energy, think to yourself, I will give you what I can, but I keep my essential
energy for me. Imagination is highly effective. The brain makes no difference between the imagines
and the actual. You can fortify yourself and get your body working to protect you simply by becoming
When you wake up in the morning and need a boost, raise your arms at the sides, bend at elbows and
shake. Shake up and down.
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MASSAGE FOR STRESS RELIEF
Spend hours sitting at a desk, driving or in meetings? Tension is building in your upper back,
shoulders, neck and head. Release it with a simple relaxation routine such as massage.
Massage helps to:
Relieve stress and muscular tension
Relieve after-lunch fatigue
Relieve migraines and tension headaches
Increase energy levels, which improves productivity
Rejuvenate mind and body
Massage self help techniques
Here is a simple 5-minute stress reliever that will do wonders for you.
1. Sit comfortably with your back supported against the back of the chair, with your feet firmly on
the ground and your hands and arms open and relaxed.
2. With a deep breath in, raise the shoulders towards the ears and hold them raised for a few
seconds (you will be able to feel the tension that may be accumulating in the shoulders), now
take a long slow breath out and drop the shoulders down.
3. Repeat this several times.
4. Place your left hand on your right shoulder, squeeze gently and then release. Repeat down the
right arm to the elbow. Repeat several times. Now place your right hand on your left shoulder
and repeat the exercise.
5. Place your hands over your shoulders. As you exhale let your head fall backwards and slowly
draw your fingers over the collarbones. Repeat several times.
6. Place your hands over the top of your head and gently pull your head gently downwards, feel the
stretch. Hold for several seconds and then repeat.
7. Place the fingers of both hands at the base of your skull; apply slow circular pressures from the
base of the skull to the base of the neck.
8. Exhale and turn the head to the right side. Use the right hand to massage the right side of the
neck from behind the eye down to the collarbone. Repeat to the other side.
9. Now close your eyes and relax the muscle of the face, be aware of your eye muscles, your jaw
and your forehead. Place the fingers of both hands on each side of the temples and slowly
massage in circular motion. Repeat several times.
10. Place the fingertips of both hands in the centre of the forehead and perform slow circular
movements with both hands working out towards the temples. Repeat several times.
11. Finish by cupping your hands over your eyes and holding for several seconds. This helps to
release tension and tightness in the face.
These exercises should be done as soon as you feel tense or stressed to avoid stress building up.
These exercises can also be done individually.
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Massage for others
During a typical day, you will probably come into contact with someone else who could do with a
little TLC in the form of a massage. Colleagues, family and friends may have a tension headache or stiff
shoulders; they may be irritable or slumped over at their desk. You can help!
After learning this 10-minute massage technique, you can massage them with the knowledge that you
are helping them to ease their pain.
Person should be seated. Stand behind the person and hold your hands lightly over their shoulders.
Ask them to take three deep breaths.
With your fingers resting on the person‟s shoulders, reach down with your thumbs and place them as
far as they can go either side of the spine. Now do circular movements with your thumbs fanning out
towards the little finger. Repeat three times.
Draw thumbs out towards the middle finger. Repeat three times.
Draw thumbs out towards the index finger. Repeat three times.
Stand to the side, so that you are facing the person‟s shoulder from the side. With the heel of your
hand rub lightly and briskly in a side-to-side motion across the top of the shoulder blade, in between
the shoulder blade and below the shoulder blade. Repeat this three times and then do the other side.
Stand to the side of the person. With the middle three fingers make circular movements between the
spine and shoulder blade going right over the shoulders. Repeat three times and then do the other
Stand to the side of the person. Place both palms of both hands around the upper arm; starting from
top of upper arm, gently squeeze and release, working down toward the elbow. Repeat three times.
Hold the person‟s hand and gently squeeze the front of the hand with the heal of your hands and then
gently squeeze each finger. Go to the other side and repeat Step 5.
Finish by standing behind the person with your hands lightly resting on their shoulders.
Ask for help
Many employers now offer Indian Head Massage in the workplace from qualified therapists. The
technique adapted above covers some of the strokes used out of a 20-minute session, but also
incorporates the head and neck to keep individuals calm but alert. Ask your employer if such a service
exists at your workplace, and if not suggest it would be a useful facility to have.
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NUTRITIONAL STRESS AND HEALTH
There are many types of stress. An important part of the
equation is nutritional stress - the physical stress caused
to the body and its organs as it gamely tries to digest
assimilate and metabolise what we eat and drink.
Most of the time we give our bodies toxin-loaded,
chemically constituted platefuls of food and expect it to
cope without a grumble. Even if we eat relatively well, life goes at such a pace nowadays that we gulp
down half chewed mouthfuls, putting strain on our digestive systems. In fact, from the body‟s point of
view, we put it under enormous stress.
Stress and nutrition have always been linked – it‟s a fact. Someone with a healthy and balanced diet is
likely to be far less stressed than someone with a poor diet.
Stress is now known as a major health disorder, affecting millions of people within the UK.
Let‟s look at:
How food can help your stress levels
How caffeine affects a person that is stressed
Food, stress and relief
Healthy, nutritious food and breathing exercises are the simplest
methods for relieving stress. These methods are not only cost
effective but readily available – and without any side effects.
Foods with high vitamin and mineral levels actively help to
reduces stress levels.
Certain foods and drinks can aggravate stress. It doesn‟t
necessarily mean that you should avoid some of them
completely, just consume them in moderation.
Foods and drinks that can trigger
and aggravate stress include:
Tea, coffee, cocoa, energy drinks
Fast foods and takeaways
Meat and shellfish
Soda, soft drinks and chocolate drinks
Almonds, macadamias and other nuts
Tea, coffee, cocoa and energy drinks should most defiantly be avoided
when stressed. They may be refreshing for someone that‟s tired but they
also contain neuro stimulators like caffeine and theo-bromine, which are
proven to heighten stress. Stress makes you anxious – further stimulation
can heighten this anxiety and even cause insomnia.
Junk food and takeaways are always delicious but are a far cry from a balanced and healthy diet. They
contain high levels of protein, fats and carbohydrates that don‟t contain vital minerals and vitamins,
which can induce stress. Reducing stress is all about a balance of the correct vitamins and minerals, so
it‟s highly recommended to avoid all fast foods and takeaways.
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Beverages like soft drinks are packed full of calories that are useless and contain no vitamins or
minerals. When stressed, a build-up of carbon dioxide and lactates in the body can result in a
condition called „acidosis‟, which is damaging to health. The high levels of carbon dioxide in beverages
aggravates stress, therefore soft drinks need to be considered as an unnecessary addition to your
diet. Sugar should be avoided where possible when stressed – stress causes an increase in blood
glucose levels, which can in turn lead to a higher risk of developing diabetes.
It‟s not all doom and gloom, though, as there are plenty of foods that are good for helping to reduce
A few of these foods include:
Fresh fruit and vegetables provide an array of vitamins and
minerals that are great for reducing stress. Vegetables also have
a high fiber content, which is helpful in treating constipation –
another long term effect of stress.
Fish such as mackerel contain omega fatty acids, which are
extremely good for the heart and can protect you from heart
diseases. Fish also contains choline – a great memory booster.
Yoghurts provide minerals
including calcium, essential
to maintain well functioning
nerve impulses. Calcium
also contains lactobacillus,
which is essential for maintaining effective gut flora (micro
organisms that help you to digest food properly).
Herbal items such as Dandelion, Chamomile, and Passion flower
to name but a few, will relax both the body and mind.
To keep stress to a minimum, design a meal plan for the day that
incorporates a big meal in the morning, something relatively light
for lunch and another light meal in the evening. Salad before your
evening meal with fruits and yoghurts after is a sure way to satisfy
The dangers of breakfast!
First thing in the morning, for example, the alarm goes off and you drag yourself from a restful state.
You reach for your first cup of caffeine and probably some highly processed food such as toast or
sugar-loaded cereals. But by the time you reach work, that sugary cereal may have shut down your
immune system. The body can only work efficiently with about three teaspoons of sugar in the
bloodstream at any given time. Anything over this and your immune system may be suppressed for
anything up to six hours. (By the way, did you know that there are about 13 teaspoons of sugar in a
can of coke?)
Your body is also on high alert, thanks to the caffeine you drank. Caffeine stays in the body for six
hours before it starts to deplete, all the time triggering the release of the stress hormone cortisol,
preparing you for fight or flight and compounding your stress problem.
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What‟s the alternative?
Consider this quote from William Wolcott and Trish Fahey: “True good health is a state of dynamic
well being, one that is like that of childhood exuberance and joy, boundless energy, keen awareness of
surroundings, positive emotional state and a natural love and zest for life.” Sounds good, doesn‟t it?
There‟s just one place you get the energy for that sort of wellbeing – good food that contains proper
nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Eat a „rainbow‟
There are 350,000 different forms of edible plants on this planet. How many do you eat in a week? A
variety is essential as different types and colours of food contain different vitamins and minerals. And
your body can actually get stressed by trying to break down the same food time and time again. So
eat „a rainbow‟ of food colours instead.
If you want a strong nervous system, boost your intake of vitamins B, C and E together with minerals
magnesium and zinc. The best source of these nutrients is from food, rather than supplements. So eat
a balanced diet of meat, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables and oily fish. If you need to snack
during the day, try pumpkin or sunflower seeds and fruit particularly bananas. Fresh organic food is
the best source. If you can‟t get fresh, frozen vegetables are a reasonable alternative as much of their
nutritional content is retained.
An apple may help to keep your immune system strong and healthy. However it may come with
added ingredients you didn‟t anticipate. Intensive farming means widespread use of pesticides, so this
is where organic food comes into action. Certified organic food does not get sprayed with chemicals
and will gives you nutrition compared to non-organic on a ratio of 1:30 (1 organic lettuce = 30
inorganic lettuces). Organic food is a great way to give your body the nutrition to fight stress and its
Types of food
When you are out shopping, repeat this mantra: “Fresh first, then frozen”. Leave the tinned and
processed alone. Go for whole foods, as fresh as possible. Read food labels and if a particular product
contains an ingredient that you don‟t recognise or probably wasn‟t eaten 100 years ago, don‟t eat it
now. And also note how different food combinations work for you. Salads are good, but tomatoes
may cause you an intolerance reaction. It‟s often the foods we crave most that have this effect on us.
When you eat, have some protein with every meal/snack and have it first. By taking
protein it stimulates glucags, which mobilises fat from storage and converts it to energy. By
eating protein first this will also make you fuller so help control the amount you eat.
When stressed, we reach for quick fixes – stimulants like coffee, or foods high in fat or sugar. But this
diet compounds the problem. Chocolate gives an initial sugar and caffeine buzz, but leaves you weary.
Salty crisps dehydrate the body and brain and bring on fatigue. High fat meals raise stress hormones
and keep them high.
If you want to deal with stress, drink water. It hydrates every part of the body and brain and helps
you to better cope with stressful situations. A good rule is to take a few sips every 15 minutes. The
best source is room-temperature still water bought in glass bottles (some plastic bottles can leach
chemicals into the water inside) or use a jug filter system that you fill from the tap.
If you want to keep your blood pressure low, avoid salt. Sugar, nicotine and alcohol also stimulate
adrenaline in the body, another hormone released to prepare you for fight or flight. Chocolate
contains sugar and caffeine – a double hit! Such stimulants can trigger a stress reaction even when no
major external stress is present.
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Little and often
Don‟t go more than four hours without eating; your body‟s metabolism will start to slow.
Eat before you are hungry to avoid overeating when you do sit down for a meal. And don‟t
skip meals- all you are doing is disrupting your blood sugar levels, slowing down your
metabolic rate and setting yourself up for binges and sweet cravings.
Human beings were designed to move, not sit on chairs.
So exercise is an essential part of good body function.
But the good news is that exercise is your shortest
route to a feeling of well-being and a physical glow.
Not only does it keep the heart healthy and get oxygen
into the system, but it helps deplete stress hormones
and releases mood-enhancing chemicals which help us cope with stress better.
Just as fight or flight has a potentially negative physiological effect on the body, exercise has a positive
one. It increases blood flow to the body and brain and stimulates the nervous system in positive ways.
Most notably, exercise produces beta-endorphins in the body which induces a natural „high‟.
Whether you are building muscle or stamina, all types of exercise relaxes tense muscles and tissue.
These can strongly contribute to stress-related aches and pains such as neck or back pains and
Exercise is also particularly good when it‟s competitive. This will enable you to raise your game to a
higher performance level that you would otherwise achieve. Try a sport with an opponent such as
tennis or badminton, or a situation where you can set up a race against someone else, such as cycling,
swimming or even power walking with a friend.
But whatever exercise you try, you will soon discover its major benefit is that it allows you to forget
your problems. Not only do you become completely absorbed in what you are doing at the time. But
the positive endorphins that exercise releases will also help you maintain a more positive outlook
Guided imagery is a form of self-hypnosis that
has been associated with positive stimulation
of the immune system. Positive suggestion is
used to release negative self-image, assist in
creating and achieving goals, and as a natural
way to relieve physical, mental and emotional
stress. The method can be used to treat
stress-related illnesses such as high blood
pressure and insomnia.
This is a terrific way to reduce stress and
work through those day-to-day challenges. It's
simple, low-tech and effective: all you need is
your imagination and a few minutes to yourself.
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Using imagery to relax
You can learn the secrets of guided imagery and use them at any time of the day. All you need is five
minutes to yourself.
Begin by closing your eyes and taking deep, measured breaths. Imagine that you are in beautiful
surroundings - either a place you have visited or a place you conjure up from your imagination. Focus
on bringing all the elements of the scene to life: the colours you see, the sounds you hear, the smells
you detect, the aromas and taste. How does your body feel in this environment? Is it warm or cool?
Are you alone or with others? Bring the images into focus and try to “stay in the scene” for at least
five minutes. Practice this exercise for a few minutes every day, or use whenever you're stressed.
A TEN-STEP GUIDE TO COPING WITH STRESS
1) Avoid nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar products.
They are all stimulants, so therefore they cannot calm you down. If you‟re stressed, steer clear of
them and keep yourself well-hydrated by drinking water instead. The quality of the water you drink
can also have an impact on your wellbeing.
2) Work off stress with physical activity.
Pressure or anger releases adrenaline in the body. Exercise helps to reduce it, and produces „good
mood‟ substances in the brain. So go for a brisk walk around the block when you feel tense, and try
some regular exercise after work.
3) Relax with a stress reduction technique every day.
Try self-hypnosis – it‟s very easy and can even be done at your desk. We can recommend courses in
self-hypnosis and we have an extensive range of relaxation CDs that can teach you the secrets of this
technique. Or think up a self-affirming mantra to repeat to yourself (eg „I deserve calm in my life‟, or „I
have a choice in every situation‟). Repeat it to yourself whenever you feel tense.
4) Get enough sleep.
Sleep is essential for the body to function properly. Sleeping pills are not necessary if you change your
life-style. If you‟ve habitually skimped on sleep, you probably won‟t even remember how it feels to
wake up fully rested. Give it a go for a week, and see if there‟s a difference in how you perform
during the day. If you are struggling try some sleep aids that will ensure a restful night‟s sleep.
5) If you’re ill, rest.
Don‟t just carry on regardless. Working will tire the body and prolong the illness. So recognise that
you have limits and don‟t carry on as if you were firing on all cylinders.
6) Agree with somebody; once in a while!
Life shouldn‟t be a constant battleground. So even if you disagree with someone, avoid conflict by just
agreeing or keeping quiet. After all, they have a right to their opinion, just as you do.
7) Learn to accept what you cannot change.
A well known prayer asks for the serenity “to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to
change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. This philosophy will help you avoid
unhappiness, cynicism and bitterness.
8) Listen to your body.
When you are tired, hungry or thirsty, do something about it. Also recognise stress and anger in your
day and counter it immediately with a brisk walk, ten minutes‟ in deep relaxation or whatever works
for you. Order a batch of our „stress squares‟ to put around the house or office so you can test your
stress levels whenever you like.
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9) Learn how to say ‘no’.
Simple, but effective. Where a „no‟ is the appropriate response, say it without guilt.
10) Manage your time.
Take one thing at a time. Don‟t overdo things. Create time buffers to deal with unexpected
emergencies. And, recognise that your day to day problems and responsibilities are the things that
cause stress in your life. Tackle them with a system that works for you. We have our subliminal
messaging CD that can help improve your time management skills.
Stress often results from a general difficulty in coping with day-to-day problems and responsibilities. A
useful strategy for dealing with a sense of being overwhelmed by all the things that need attention is
prioritising and diarising:
Make a list of all the things that you need to do; list them in order of genuine importance; noting what
you need to do personally and what can be delegated to others; and noting what needs to be done
immediately, in the next week or next month etc.
What starts out as an overwhelming and unmanageable list which was the source of the stress and
anxiety, is transformed into a more realistic and manageable set of tasks, spread out over a more
achievable time frame, with some items removed from the list altogether, either through delegation
or the realisation that they are, after all, unnecessary or unimportant.
ABOUT THE STRESS MANAGEMENT SOCIETY
The Stress Management Society is an organisation dedicated to helping people tackle stress at work
and at home.
Our team of health and professional consultants offers the highest quality consultancy, staff training,
event organisation and stress management products. All our services are delivered in line with the
Health and Safety Executive‟s Stress Management Standards.
We work with individuals and companies ranging from sole traders to those listed on the FTSE 100.
We work both in the public and private sector. We offer everything from simple advice to company-
wide stress audits.
If you need help tackling stress, please get in touch.
ABOUT OUR STRESS MANAGEMENT TRAINING
We provide a workshop for anyone interested in being freed from the stress trap. It is especially
aimed at people working in a high-pressure environment. However its techniques can benefit people
from any level, background or industry.
It includes training in „desk yoga‟ and „desk massage‟, which can be done discreetly, even in an open
plan office. Such techniques relax stressed muscles and rebalance body and mind. They also focus on
proper breathing, an essential tool in de-stressing.
Lastly the workshop includes training on how to relax and become more centred through creative
visualisation. Even a few minutes in this state of deep relaxation is equivalent to several hours sleep.
Delegates are taught to achieve a state of self-hypnosis to take advantage of these benefits. Once
learned they can be applied in any type of work environment, or even on the bus going to work!
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For more info or to book a workshop or a coaching
session see www.stress.org.uk,
call 0844 357 8629
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in our range of
stress management/wellbeing products,
go to www.feelkarma.com.
If you want to promote your company or
message with stress management products
branded with your company name or
colours, go to www.stressmoodcards.com.