Exercises for stress

Forty or 50 years ago we didn’t talk about stress, but it must have been there – it just didn’t have a name. How could anyone go through seven years of the Second World War without being stressed?

Today the word ‘stress’ is bandied around liberally with people saying they are stressed after trying to ring the bank, or getting caught in a traffic jam. So what does stress mean? The Stress Management Society defines stress as ‘a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise”.


  • Avoid nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar.
  • Work off stress with physical exercise.
  • Relax with a stress reduction technique every day (meditation, relaxation CDs,etc).
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Rest if you are ill.
  • Agree with someone, once in a while!
  • Learn to accept what you cannot change.
  • Listen to your body.
  • Learn how to say no.
  • Manage your time.

There is no doubt that we cannot avoid stress. It is in our lives day in and day out, and just when you think everything’s OK again something else pops up to upset you. The most major stresses like bereavement, illness and divorce are hard to cope with however cool and calm you are, but if you can learn to deal with the more minor stresses of life better you are more likely to cope in a real crisis.

Neil Shah, founder of the Stress Management Association, gives an example where he had to deal with a stressful situation. He was on the M25 going to a meeting where he was going to talk about stress management. He was caught in a traffic jam that wasn’t moving at all.

He says, ‘I started getting hot and sweaty and my breathing was getting faster as I realised that I might be late or not even get to the meeting. I wound down the window and started breathing slowly and deeply, and turned the radio on to Classic FM. I calmed down a lot, and as it happened the traffic moved and I got there just in time. I was then able to tell the story to the participants.’

Frances Ive is the author of Stress – The Essential Guide, published by Need2Know Books (buy here: www.need2knowbooks.co.uk)

Read the article: Are You Stressed?

Breathing and stretching exercises to relax, calm and re-energise

as provided by the Stress Management Society

Breathing exercises

The yoga alternate nostril breath 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 the lungs. Exhaling for double the time means that more toxins are released, cleaning out the lungs. This exercise enhances relaxation, particular in your shoulders, and heightens perception.

• Place a finger under your nostrils and exhale through the nose.
• Close right nostril with left thumb.
• Inhale from left nostril to the count of four.
• Gently pinch left nostril with right ring finger to the count of 16.
• Exhale through right nostril for count of 8.
• In hale through right nostril for four.
o Hold for 16 (if you can).
• Exhale through left for 8.

Tension-releasing exercises

At your desk, after driving, or sitting in meetings tension accumulates on the upper back, shoulders, neck and head.

Five minute stress reliever:
Sit comfortably with your back supported against the back of the chair, with feet firmly on the ground and hands and arms open and relaxed.

  • With a deep breath in, raise the shoulders towards the ears and hold them raised for a few seconds (you can feel the tension in your shoulders), and then take a long slow breath out and drop the shoulders down. Repeat several times.
  • Place your left hand on your right shoulders and 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.
  • Place your hands over your shoulders. As you exhale let your head fall backwards and slowly draw your fingers over your collarbones. Repeat several times.
  • Place your hands over the top of your head and gently pull your head downwards, feeling the stretch. Hold for several seconds and then repeat.
  • 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.
  • 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 on the other side.
  • Close your eyes and relax the muscles of the face, being aware of your eye muscles, your jaw and forehead. Place the ringers of both hands on each side of the temples and slowly massage in circular motion. Repeat several times.
  • 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.
  • Finish by cupping your hands over your eyes and holding for several seconds. This helps to release tension and tightness in the face.

The Stress Management Society is an organisation dedicated to helping people tackle stress at work and at home. For more information or for a workshop or coaching session contact: 0844 357 8629, email info@stress.org.uk, or go to: www.stress.org.uk

Read a copy of Stress – The Essential Guide, by Frances Ive, available as an e-book or in print, £8.99, from http://www.need2knowbooks.co.uk

Boost your memory naturally

Ginkgo, courtesy of A. Vogel

It is a fact that our brains lose function as we get into middle age and some people claim it happens much earlier! Some old people can remember intricate details of their childhood as if it were yesterday, but completely forget who came to see them the day before.

Cognitive memory is the ability to learn and remember information, recall names and faces, remember where misplaced objects are, recite telephone numbers off by heart and maintain high levels of concentration.

It is this kind of memory which starts to let us down but there are many ways of boosting it through diet and other techniques.

Mnemonics for memory

Many efficient people work around their poor memories using lists and mnemonics – devices to help them remember. Typical mnemonics include remembering facts about people and connecting them to their names:

  • The colour of their hair.
  • What type of car they drive.
  • Whether or not you like them.
  • Using sequences or numbers to plant them in the brain.

Stilling the mind with meditation

It’s generally accepted that we use a fraction of our mental potential – say 5 to 10 per cent, so most of us have a vast untapped resource,’ claims Jonathan Hinde, National director of TM, The Maharishi Foundation.

‘Transcendental Meditation is a natural technique which allows the mind to settle down until you experience a state of complete inner silence. It’s a bit like taking a mental bath!’

It’s easy to do and just 20 minutes a day can improve clarity of mind, concentration and focus. ‘Regular practice of TM develops the ability to use these quieter, more intuitive and more comprehensive levels of awareness,’ says Jonathan.

People find that as a cumulative result of practising TM the mind is much clearer.’

Contact: Transcendental Meditation-National Communications Office (TM-NCO) 08705 143733, www.t-m.org.uk

London Meditation Centre, www.londonmeditationcentre.com

Finding lost years

Few people seek counselling because of poor memory, but clearing out the cobwebs from the mind usually makes them less forgetful.

‘The only thing we ever claim to cure for counselling is confusion,’ according to Philip Hodson, counsellor and Head of Media Relations at the British Association of Counsellors (BAC).

‘Some people come to us saying that they can’t remember any of their childhood and in several sessions they rediscover lost tracts of memory. Removing an emotional block can help people to know better who they are, where they’ve come from, and what has happened in their lives.’

‘Memory like anything else is a matter of practice and habit. Karl Marx used to revise what he knew every year.’

According to Philip,

  • There’s no such thing as a brain – it’s a network of connections brought together when you use it, like electrical impulses firing and connecting a circuit;
  • From about the age of 10 and onwards the connections fade if they are not refreshed.

‘It is natural for memory problems to increase as life goes on. This is due to hormonal interference and the fact that the brain doesn’t record as well. People need to be a bit more yielding and not force it.

‘We all forget something and try to make ourselves remember it, but when we stop thinking about it, it comes back. The unconscious mind retrieves it when the panic of forgetting has gone.

‘Learning to live with your brain is important. For instance, having systems like lists, or a ‘mantra’ you keep repeating like I do when I play cricket to remember my trousers, gloves, bat and so on.’

The British Association of Counsellors, 0870 443 5252, www.bacp.co.uk

Clearing the clutter

Carole Gaskell of the Lifecoaching Company claims ‘The key thing is to eliminate the clutter from the mind. It is helpful to consistently spring clean your life, and see a counsellor if there are long-term issues you are holding on to.

She advises:

  • The brain operates more effectively if you have clear foundations – physically and mentally;
  • If you have a lot of emotional baggage – such as not forgiving people, or too much frustration and anger you haven’t found an outlet for it’s hard to have a good memory;‘
  • If you’re surrounded by physical clutter, such as a desk full of papers, it saps your energy and you can’t see the wood for the trees. If you’re not working from a clean slate you’re giving yourself a difficult time.

‘When you’re in a positive place with a lot of love around you it’s easier to function and have a good memory. If you’re operating from a low level of reserves it’s hard to remember things.

‘People who are pragmatic and know what’s important have an ability to stand away from their busy lives and see it from a higher perspective. When people recognise what works, they can start to do something about it.’

The Lifecoaching Company gives free half hour sessions to anyone who calls them on 01628 488990, www.lifecoaching-company.co.uk

Reprogramming helps the memory

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) uses techniques to help people to reprogram their minds by getting in touch with their self-awareness or as NLP practitioner, Tina Boyden explains, ‘How we think and feel about things’.

‘If someone is thinking that they’d like to change the way they are, NLP helps them to develop in the way they want by using a range of techniques.’

Tina explains:

  • Often memory is about the values someone puts on remembering things;
  • Some people think it’s important to remember names and faces, while others don’t;
  • Much of what we do is influenced by our attitudes and beliefs and whether we consider it important.

‘When I wanted to improve my own memory I found people who had good memories and found out how they did it. If you find out what they do, their beliefs and values, you can try them out for yourself.’

Tina Boyden practises in North London, 07710 279526

The International Association of NLP Trainers, (INLPTA), 01329 285353, www.inlpta.co.uk

The Association for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, http://www.anlp.org

Nutritional aide memoires

Choline: Eggs, liver, fish, caviar, soya beans, peanuts, whole grains, nuts, lentils, wheat germ and brewer’s yeast; transforms into acetyl-choline a neurotransmitter that helps the transmission of nerve cells to and from the brain;

Vitamin B3: Mushrooms, tuna, chicken, pig’s liver, salmon, asparagus, cabbage, lamb, mackerel, turkey, tomatoes, courgettes, cauliflower, peanut butter and whole wheat; together with iron is involved in the formation of dopamine which lays down the maintenance of memory;

CO-Q10: Sardines, mackerel, pork, spinach, soya oil, peanuts, sesame seeds, walnuts; increases oxygen flow to the brain;

Alpha-lipoic acid: Red meat, broccoli, spinach, yeast, heart; is believed to improve memory;

Iron: Red meat, green leafy vegs, pulses, grains and dried fruits; with Vitamin B3 is involved in forming dopamine.

Ginkgo: The tincture or tablets from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree have been proven to improve brain function, and have been used in Traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Should not be taken with low-dose aspirin or anticoagulants such as warfarin.

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Coping with depression

Are antidepressants the solution?

Most people know what it feels like to be depressed – and it is entirely normal to feel down following bereavement, divorce, redundancy or other life problems. It is when depression becomes a way of life that it becomes a problem, and often this is hard to recognise. Sometimes it is someone close to you – a friend, relative or colleague – to recognise that you need help.

Anti-depressants may be the most common treatment but they aren’t always the most welcome. It is true to say that they make people feel better and are often suitable for a bad patch, but there are sometimes side-effects, and if taken for long enough they can become addictive.

Doctors were criticised for putting housewives on Valium in the 1970s and 80s because they became seriously addicted. More recently there have been worries about drugs like Seroxat which have made some people much more depressed and in some cases led to suicide. SSRI drugs like Seroxat are not given to young adults any more because of several highly publicised suicide cases.

According to a report on Depression carried out by The Centre of Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group what people really need is counselling. ‘We now have evidence-based psychological therapies that can lift at least a half of those affected out of their depression or chronic fear.’

However according to the report the drawback is ‘We not have enough therapists. In most areas waiting lists for therapy are over nine months or there is waiting list at all because there are no therapists. If you go to the GP all that can be provided is medication. But many people will not take medication, either because they dislike the side effects or because they want to control their own mood.’

In this instance the therapy that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Depression Report are keen to offer is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy because it appears to work quicker than counselling.

What can someone with depression do?

Despite the shortage of therapists it is wise to visit the GP with any of the symptoms of depression in case there is another cause. It is also possible that you might be in a practice where counselling is on offer. Many people take their own action and pay to see a counsellor because they can’t wait for the NHS to provide one, because they don’t want to take drugs and because they want to know that they can have more than a few sessions.

The symptoms:

  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • Persistently feeling down or sad
  • Tiredness, low energy levels
  • Poor self-esteem
  • No interest in external things or people
  • Sleeping problems
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sexual difficulties and low libido
  • Contemplating suicide or self-harming
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches, back pain and other ailments
  • Low confidence levels
  • Negative attitude to everything
  • Inability to work or socialise

What happens when you go to a counsellor?

A counsellor does not tell people what to do but guides them to making the best decisions for themselves. The advantage of seeing a counsellor is that they are not emotionally involved with you and during the session they are dedicated to listening to you and helping you to take charge of your life.

Counselling and psychotherapy examine childhood and patterns and beliefs that were built up in the past. In extreme circumstances if someone suffered abuse as a child it shapes their whole lives and by examining it and trying to come to terms with what happened can help them to move on. But some people don’t feel that their childhood was unhappy, but they subconsciously pick up messages from their families as a young child that can hamper their future development. This may be anything from sibling rivalry to parents who loved them a lot but appeared to always be working.

If the doctor cannot refer you to a counsellor it may be necessary to pay – for those who can’t afford it there are some organisations that accept minimal payment. For example if there are relationship issues you can go to Relate alone or as a couple and they ask for a fee if you can afford it.


See Relate: www.relate.org.uk, 0845 456 1310 or Westminster Pastoral Foundation: http://www.wpf.org.uk 0207 361 4800

There are various types of therapy and more can be found out from the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy website, which also has a list of practitioners: www.bacp.co.uk

To find a counsellor go to The Counselling Directory: www.counselling-directory.org.uk

Cognitive behaviour therapy

If the NHS starts to employ more counsellors it is likely that they will be providing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) because it is particularly suitable for just several sessions.

CBT aims to examine unwanted and negative thoughts and beliefs, and looks at ways of changing behaviour or reactions to these. It is based on the belief that thoughts and behaviour patterns build up over a long period of time with roots in the past. Unlike other therapies it doesn’t go deeply into the past and is believed to work quicker – hence the interest from the Health Service.

CBT challenges the kind of thinking which keeps you stuck in destructive and negative behaviour patterns and uses techniques to uncover what is behind these.


British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, 01254 875277, www.babcp.com

Nutrition helps to lift depression

The link between nutrition and depression is being increasingly recognised by nutritional experts and often it is found that simply taking sugar and wheat out of a diet can substantially improve mood. For instance, young people eat and drink so much sugar in sweets, processed foods and fizzy drinks that their blood sugar levels are fluctuating up and down – giving them instant highs and real slumps.

Similarly caffeine causes the release of dopamine which turns into adrenalin and noradrenalin in the body and makes you feel stimulated – people often talk about their caffeine fix. However, adrenalin causes glucose (blood sugar) to be released into the system stimulating mind and body similarly to sugar. A couple of hours later the slump has set in and it’s time for another cup of coffee, and so it goes on until someone feels unwell unless they are drinking coffee. Obviously alcohol induces the same problem.

A constant cycle of this kind of eating and drinking can make people more and more depressed. Not only are there foods which literally depress the body but there are also foods that cause natural highs – healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables, and there are a number of food supplements and herbs which raise mood without the side-effects of prescription drugs. For example the amino acid, Tryptophan, produces serotonin that is usually lacking in people who are depressed and occurs naturally in turkey, milk, cottage cheese, chicken, eggs, red meat and soya beans.

Herbal medicine and flower remedies

St John’s Wort has been proven in many studies to relieve symptoms of depression without side-effects, but it has to be avoided by pregnant women and should not be taken with prescription anti-depressants. Check with your GP if taking any other medication or if you are on the pill.

Passiflora is a herbal remedy that soothes anxiety without addiction or side-effects.

Flower remedies of all kinds can also be helpful – try Larch for lack of confidence, Oak for needing strength, Mimulus for fear.

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The Brain Bio Centre, www.mentalhealthproject.com


Food is Better Medicine than Drugs, Patrick Holford and Jerome Burne, click on Amazon ad below to buy.