3 ways to beat stress and feel more in control

Posted on July 10th, by Dr Rob Yeung .

When life’s hassles and problems keep piling up, it can be really easy to feel overwhelmed. Here are three quick tips for taking the edge off of how you’re feeling and to feel more centred.

1. Breathe mindfully

To feel more in control, focus your attention on your breathingThe idea of mindfulness has grown over the last decade or so from being an unconventional idea to something proven by science. In experiments, practising mindfulness for only 8 to 10 minutes has been shown to have significant, measurable benefits for frazzled people. But you may find that even just a few minutes of mindfulness may help you to feel better.

Try this exercise. I call this the coin count. Get hold of a small number of coins or other small objects that you can pass easily from one hand to the next, e.g. paper clips, children’s marbles, Lego pieces, scraps of torn-up paper or any other objects you can find in the home or office. Place all of the objects within easy reach of your right hand, say on a table in front of you.

Gaze at a fixed point or close your eyes. You can do this sitting or even standing up.

Simply start counting your breaths. Don’t change how you breathe. Breathe normally. Focus on the rise and fall of your chest and belly.

If you find your mind wandering, simply focus your attention back on your breathing. There’s no need to tell yourself off for allowing your mind to wander. In fact, most people find that their attention will wander at least some of the time.

When you have counted 10 breaths, take a coin (or whatever object you’re using) and pass it from your right to your left side. And then start again by counting your breaths from 1 again.

When you get to 10 for a second time, take another coin (or other object) and again pass it from your right hand to your left hand.

Most people find that it takes around a minute to get to 10. So if you want to breathe mindfully for 3 minutes, simply get hold of 3 coins. If you want to be mindful for 5 minutes, find 5 coins. And so on.

2. Tell yourself a different story

Say someone has criticised you and you feel hurt. You may have thoughts running through your head such as “I’m hopeless” or “I feel foolish.” But try reappraising the situation: finding an alternative story about what has just happened.

So you might make up explanations such as “He must be in a really bad mood today” or “He must feel jealous to have attacked me like that.”

And that’s all there is to the technique. The good news is that you don’t even have to believe the alternative story. Simply taking a few moments to come up with a different explanation for why you’re feeling stressed is enough to help the more rational parts of your mind to beat back your emotions.

3. Tackle the problem head-on

Both breathing and cognitive reappraisal are mental strategies for feeling more confident. But sometimes it’s worth taking a more practical approach by actually trying to figure out how to remove, minimise or get away from the source of your stress.

So take paper and pen and write down at least 3 possible ways you could work on the source of your stress. When you have written down 3 options, choose one of them and do something about it for just 5 minutes. For example, if you hate your boss, don’t just fantasise about getting a new job. Actually spend 5 minutes online looking for a new job or rewriting your CV. Or if your neighbour is causing you grief, consider writing her a note or asking other neighbours for support.

Again, the point here isn’t to solve the problem immediately – just to get started. And that process of getting started may be enough to help you to feel less stressed and slightly more in control again.

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