How to beat stress without a shrink

16 September 2011 -


Tom Peck introduces three solutions and six tips for beating stress on your own, with no equipment

1. Think yourself better

“Akin to meditation, autogenic therapy is a mind/body relaxation tool,” says Greville Waterman, who, after 18 years working in Sponsorship Consultancy, took a course in autogenic therapy and is now an Associate Member of the British Autogenic Society, and working towards a Diploma in Autogenic Training (AT).

“If you get frightened or stressed or anxious, you enter this fight or flight process,” he says. “AT helps to reverse that process to allow the body to regain equilibrium, by putting yourself in an altered state of consciousness.”

The treatment first emerged in Germany in the 1920s, the work of a Berlin doctor Johannes Heinrich Schultz. Dr Malcolm Carruthers, a clinical and chemical pathologist brought it to the UK in the 1970s and is the author of several books on the subject. “Stress is not a bad thing,” he says. “In the right amounts it can be the spice of life. But it’s a question of how you deal with it.”

So what does the treatment involve? It’s a case of learning how to focus your attention through a series of mental exercises.

First is the art of passive concentration – quietly allowing your mind to focus on your body.

Second, the repetition of certain phrases or words which allow you to “target” certain parts of the body and induce relaxing feelings, such as heaviness or warmth. And third, putting your body into basic relaxed postures, to cut out the effects of the outside world.

“Warmth, heaviness in the limbs, regular breathing, a slow heart rate, a cool solar plexus and a cool forehead. These are things that are clinically proven to calm you down and make you feel less stressed,” says Waterman. “You visit these parts of your body mentally and think about these things. You’re mentally examining what’s going on in your body, but not overstriving.”

For the final stage, there are three positions: lying flat on the floor in a relaxed position; sitting in a chair with your hands resting on the arms of the chair or on your thighs; and third, sat on the edge of a hard chair, slumped over with the back and head hanging forward and loose.

There are about 100 autogenic therapists in the UK. A course of nine sessions equips you to practise the therapy by yourself.

2. Cry it off

“Many people feel ‘cleansed’ after a good cry,” says Professor Gail Kinman, an occupational health psychologist at the University of Bedfordshire. “Many women say they often feel like a good cry, not because something bad has happened but as a form of therapy.”

Crying is a valuable way of relieving stress and tension that might otherwise have long-term harmful effects on the body.

“We cannot sustain strong emotions for very long and have to dampen them somehow,” says Professor Kinman. “A good cry is a great way of doing that. We British have always been fairly stiff-upper-lipped. We are judged by the extent to which we hold ourselves together, even at funerals. Those in Mediterranean countries, on the other hand, are much more likely to cry, even the men.”

Our eyes release three different types of tears. Basal tears lubricate the eyeball. Reflex tears are similar and result from excess liquid building up in the eye in response to an irritant, onion vapours or specks of dust.

But emotional weeping is different. Tears shed due to grief, anger, happiness or pain have an entirely different chemical make-up. Emotional tears contain hormones and chemicals released by the body that can make you feel better afterwards. Though it may not be straightforward to perform at one’s desk, a prolonged cry of six to seven minutes in length, induced by a particular piece of music, or merely the suspension of the urge to control it, is a potent stress-buster.

3. Go out on a limb

Founded by an American former businessman, this method is as simple as it is seductive. Lie down and concentrate on an area of the body or mind, relax, then consciously think: “I’m resting for this part of my body now.” If you do it properly, apparently, you’ll feel what its founder Dan Howard calls a rapid “dropping-in” sensation.

He believes that “resting” certain parts of the body can help you regain strength and perspective, and even ease pain. He already has a worldwide following of several thousand. “Intentional resting,” says Mr Howard, “is an opportunity to remember what your body innately knows: how to rest.

“Once you’ve practised, it’s a 10-to-30-second process where you choose resting over stress.” You can practise it at any time – be it in the workplace, or the car. “If you’re grounded and calm, your presence influences others,” Mr Howard believes. “If world leaders and politicians tried it, we’d all be in a better place.” And managers, too.

Intriguing it may be, but it has its basis in far older, more accepted techniques. Self-hypnosis and deep meditation have been used to treat conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, where a patient is asked to focus their concentration on their bowel.

The dirty half dozen

Things to avoid if you don’t want to stress out your staff and alienate people

1. Don’t sweat your tasks

If you pile tasks on the best staff and let weaker ones do less, star employees get irritated and quit, leaving you with a mediocre team.

2. If you value them, set them free

It is madness to appoint executives then second-guess their every decision. Give staff autonomy or they will move to someone who does.

3. Smooth-running wheels still need oil

Don’t spend all of your time on problem staff. If you fail to support good people, they won’t support you.

4. Don’t tell tales

If an employee speaks to you in confidence, don’t betray them.

5. Avoid muddying the waters

Give your staff a remit and let them deliver on it. Failing to brief properly leads to muddled projects and low morale.

6. If it works, don’t fix it

Be careful before you change a system. You need a very good reason to justify altering a process everyone understands.

Based on the Health and Safety Executive’s six stress-risk factors

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