How to keep calm and reduce stress

Jane Garton

It's important to have calm in your life and prevent your stress levels from soaring. So follow our guide to keeping calm and carrying on.

As stress increases, levels of the hormone cortisol, produced by your adrenal glands, rise. And, while we need a certain amount of cortisol to keep us on our toes, repeatedly raising levels can lead to physical and psychological problems including high blood pressure, raised blood sugar, low immunity, headaches, fatigue and panic attacks. Try some of the calming techniques below and see which ones work best for you.

Sing out

Singing along to your favourite song is a quick calm-down fix. ‘Research shows that people who sing in the car on the way to work or Christmas shopping, for example, are 40% less agitated and stressed than those who don’t,’ says naturopath Kelly Griffiths. The reason? Singing makes you breathe more deeply, which means more oxygen reaches your muscles, and you start to relax and wind down.

Let the music play

Taking time out to listen to some restful music can imbue you with a sense of calm. ‘Research has shown that gentle music and, in particular, classical music can have a positive effect on brainwaves,’ explains Gladeana McMahon of the Centre for Stress Management. ‘Even if you are working at a computer, having some calming music on in the background can help to relax you, lower your blood pressure and increase a sense of well-being,’ she adds.

Eat regularly

Grabbing a snack on the hoof is an easy option at this time of year, but if you want to stay calm, regular, balanced meals over the day is the only way to keep blood sugar levels - and your mood - on an even keel.

‘The steadier the rise and fall in blood glucose, the more stable your mood is likely to be,’ explains dietician Lyndel Costain. ‘For sustained energy and calm in the mornings, plump for a breakfast of porridge. Oats are low on the glycaemic index (GI), which is a measure of how fast a food causes blood sugar to rise. A low GI breakfast keeps your concentration sharp and means you don’t have blood sugar dips later in the morning.’ Studies have also found that breakfast cereal eaters report feeling less stressed.

Stretch it

If tensions start to rise find a quiet place and try these calm-down stretches from Dean Hodgkin, fitness expert at Ragdale Hall spa. All positions should be held at the end of the range of movement, where you feel mild tension, for at least 15 seconds. This may be slightly uncomfortable but not painful. As your body relaxes into each stretch extend it a little more.

  • Drop your left ear to your left shoulder while simultaneously reaching the fingers of your right hand towards the floor. Repeat on the other side.
  • Clasp your hands together and raise them in front of your chest, with the palms facing towards you. Keeping your arms bent, as if trying to hug a wide tree, reach your hands forwards and feel the stretch in your shoulder blades.
  • Place both hands behind you with the palms resting on your lower back, just above your buttocks. Keeping your tummy pulled in, squeeze your elbows towards each other and hold

Go lavender

‘Buy some 100% lavender essential oil and put two drops on the inside of each wrist and rub into your skin and temples if you wish. This will help to take the edge off things as well as helping to relax you,’ says Kelly Griffiths.

Breathe deeply

Try the following deep breathing exercise and feel your stress float away. Take five deep breaths in, drawing the air right down into the bottom of your ribcage. Hold it down there for two to four seconds then breathe out slowly through your nose, consciously relaxing your shoulders and stomach muscles. Repeat exercise three to four times.

Try aromatherapy

When the going gets tough let the soothing aroma of essential oils calm your senses. ‘Working on the limbic system in the brain, the area associated with moods and emotions, a few drops of frankincense essential oil can bring instant calm in times of stress,’ advises Geraldine Howard, president and founder of Aromatherapy Associates. Here’s how to get the benefits.

  • Add two to three drops of frankincense essential oil to a bowl of warm water or use in an electric burner
  • Alternatively, just add a few drops to a tissue or handkerchief and inhale
  • Soak in a bath to which you have added a few drops of frankincense oil mixed into a capful of vegetable oil.

Control it

‘Rather than getting stressed out about things you can’t change, put your energy into learning to control the things you can,’ says Danielle Heffernan psychologist from the Mind Gym. ‘For example getting on a crowded bus to go Christmas shopping down a busy high street is guaranteed to stress you out. Instead take control – if possible, do your shopping first thing in the morning when there are fewer people out and about, or shop on-line. That way you avoid common stress triggers and increase your chances of keeping your inner calm intact.’

Create a worry slot

If you are one of life’s worriers there is probably not a lot you can do to stop yourself worrying altogether but you can learn to manage it.  ‘Set aside half an hour each day for worrying,’ suggests Danielle Heffernan. ‘As soon as anxieties creep into your head say to yourself that you will think about them later at 4.30 pm or whenever your allocated worry time is. That way you can focus on the here and now without anxiety getting in the way.’ Try it – you may well be surprised just how calm and worry free you can become.

Treat your feet

‘During the festive season our poor feet grow tired and often start to ache,’ says Kelly Griffiths. ‘ Taking some time out to pamper them can leave you feeling calm all over,’ she adds. So book yourself in for a pedicure, a foot massage or a 30-minute reflexology session.

Press here for calm

Massage away your cares with some soothing acupressure. Find the acupressure point in the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and forefinger, and press firmly between the ball of your thumb and the tip of your finger. Hold for about 20 seconds, then let go slowly and gently. Wait for 10 seconds, then repeat. Do this up to five times.

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