Susannah Taylor: Five simple ways to beat stress

After the past two years, it’s no wonder our anxiety levels are currently off the charts. We all react differently under extreme stress – some of us cry, others get angry, some go silent. In years gone by, I would have freaked out under stress – completely lost my cool – but my husband, who I’ve been with since I was 19, is very measured.

He has taught me that it doesn’t have to be that way and has shown me that we can choose the way we react to things. The Art of Calm Living by Camille Knight* is a new book that’s like a little bible for de-stressing. Full of quotes and techniques to help us unfrazzle, it says, ‘Our circumstances are often beyond our control, but our reaction to them is very much within our grasp. We can choose calm in the most stressful situations.’

Image: David Yenni. Styling: Sairey Stemp. Jumper and leggings, Varley

While our stress is nothing compared to those currently in a war zone, it’s important we manage the daily build-up before it escalates into something much bigger that can make us ill. Here are some tips I’ve found particularly useful in stressful times…

1. Pause before you react

This game-changer is something that life coach Alister Gray has spoken to me about. If you tend to fly off the handle under tense situations, learn to be mindful of how you are reacting. It helps to see yourself as if you are watching yourself on a screen. How are you behaving? Is it in a way that could be damaging for your children? If so, you can change it. Allow the emotion to rise and fall but pause for a second so you can choose the way you want to respond.

2. Come to your senses

When I feel overwhelmed, I love this tip from Jillian Lavender, founder of the London Meditation Centre. It is to intently hear, see, smell, taste and touch – spending 20 seconds on each. Hear the smallest of noises, taste the bitterness of the coffee on your tongue or see the colours and textures around you. The idea is that it will pull you out of your mental chatter and allow your brain and body to decelerate.

3. Be mindful of worry

It says in The Art of Calm Living, ‘Worrying won’t change the outcome of any event but it will take away your peace of mind today.’ We often don’t know we are locked into a worry mindset because we are caught up in its whirlpool. However, if you can take a step back you will see that worry is futile. As film director Baz Luhrmann said, ‘Worrying about the future is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.’ Take action instead.

4. Breathe

There is so much information about breathing correctly. As someone who has suffered from anxiety, I can vouch for the fact that calming your breath calms your mind and body. If I am feeling particularly stressed, I sit for ten minutes and breathe in down to my belly for the count of four, then out for the count of seven. Ignore the thoughts that say, ‘This isn’t working.’ It will be.

5. Accept your feelings

Sometimes our emotions can be particularly frightening. But we must remember they are there to protect us – to remind us when something is wrong, to run from danger or to help us process things (eg, crying). One of the points made in The Art of Calm Living is to acknowledge and accept our feelings rather than confront them or run from them. I often say to my children that emotions are like the weather – sometimes there are dark clouds, sometimes rain and other times it’s bright and sunny. Accept the weather of your mind and let it come and go.

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Stash, carry… and reuse

I’ve just stocked up on Stasher bags in the hope that I’ll never buy plastic food bags again. I find these reusable silicone versions unbelievably handy. Available in various sizes, I use them to carry healthy snacks in my bag, for freezing food, for crudités in my daughter’s lunch box and to keep food for longer in the fridge. You can also shove them in the dishwasher and microwave. From around £10, amazon.co.uk

*Published by Octopus, £6.99. To order a copy for £5.94 until 4 April go to books.mailshop.co.uk or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.

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