Feeling stressed lately? Author Noa Belling shares some simple strategies for minimising the effects of stress on your body and mind.

Stress is part of life. It can be positive when it keeps you out of danger or motivates you; but it can be negative when you are stressed beyond your ability to cope, such as when stress goes on for too long or becomes too intense. Signs could be distress, overwhelm, burnout, irritability, chronic anxiety or depression. On a physical level, negative stress depletes your energy and compromises physical health, such as interfering with healthy immune and digestive function. Stress also compromises your mental health and interferes with your ability to think clearly, rationally, and creatively.

When you relax, your physical and mental health can thrive. My five tips for on-the-spot stress management will help you do just that as they’re designed to calm your body and mind, guiding you to feel more relaxed and in control, and building stress resilience.

1. Open your heart

This can be a helpful pause point at any time of day, especially when a lot has been going on, or it can be done in the morning to set an intention for the day.


• Place one hand on the centre of your chest and notice how it feels. This simple gesture can draw attention down from your head/thoughts and into your heart. Tune in to your feelings.It can also encourage you to prioritise what feels most important in this moment.

• You might consider a brief wish for yourself for the day such as strength, gentleness or trust. Take a moment to breathe this wish through you to set the intention.

• To amplify the experience, extend your wish outwards to others who might need it in your circles and beyond. Opening your heart in this expansive way is an ancient wisdom practice seen in Buddhism to help cultivate compassion for others.

BENEFITS: This practice helps you build emotional awareness and greater resilience to stress, as well as become more loving to yourself and others.

2. Come into the now

Only in your mind can you dwell on the past or worry about the future. This can perpetuate your challenges, distracting you from experiencing joy in the moment and from realising what you are capable of. Coming into the present moment can be a remedy, clearing your mind, opening your ability to be solution-focused and refreshing your energy. A quick path into the present moment is to turn your attention outwards to notice your environment. The “3-3-3” technique can help with this as it involves drawing on three of your five senses, sight, sound and physical sensation, to anchor you in the moment.


• Pause to look at three objects in your environment. Then listen out for three sounds, near and far. Then move or stretch out three body parts. This can bring the added benefit of loosening up tense areas.

• When complete, take a moment to notice how you feel. From this potentially clearer perspective, ask yourself what to do next. With practice, this technique can help build stress resilience.

BENEFITS: This brings you firmly into the now where you can focus on solutions and find more clarity.

3. Stretch it out!

Next time you feel stressed, notice where tension hotspots might be in your body, such as shoulders, back, abdomen, chest or throat. You can release areas of tension with movement, stretching and breathing as well as drawing on a practice you might use every day, perhaps without realising its value, called “pandiculation”. Picture waking up in the morning with a good yawn and a stretch: that’s pandiculation – the instinctive stretching that happens when you yawn. It’s nature’s way of readying your body for movement after rest. Animals do it better than humans. Studies from the Somatic Movement Center, based in Massachusetts, USA, show that this simple practice can be beneficial for stress relief, ease of movement and even pain management.


• To make more of this organic stretching, keep it going for longer than your actual yawn. Stretch and twist into your upper body and arms. Then, extend the stretching into your spine, lower back and legs too for a full body wake-up.

• This can also work well after a period of sitting still at your desk, to release accumulated tension and help you get moving again.

4. Write things down

Holding ideas in your mind can either be stressful or lead you to forget good ideas and intentions. Keeping a pen and paper handy can ease the stress of trying to remember things. It can also keep you on track with all you wish to accomplish.


• Support emotional resilience by spending 15-20 minutes writing about emotions you want to understand better, including what the triggers might be. Start by writing down an emotion, then let ideas and feelings flood onto the page.

• Another helpful task is goal setting. Reflect on short and longer term goals, and brainstorm ideas for achieving them. Then, choose from the options to create a time-bound action plan, such as for the week or month to come, identifying realistic and achievable steps to follow through with. Plan to repeat this reflection process to keep track of and motivate your progress by updating options and action plans. At times of big change, you might want to revisit this process weekly.

5. Take a breathing break

Stress affects how you breathe. For example, breathing can be restricted to the upper chest and be shallow or held. Next time you feel stressed, pay attention to your breathing and encourage it to flow more freely. Use gentle, slow breaths so as not to feel dizzy and gradually invite tense areas to open. You can also imagine breathing in from the ground up to encourage deeper belly breathing. Effects can include feeling calmer and more energised, and being able to think more clearly from the oxygenation of brain and body.


• Breathe in slowly for a mental count of 3-5 seconds. Then breathe out for the same amount of time, either blowing air gently out your mouth (for stress relief) or breathing out through your nose (for deeper calm).

• Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly while breathing. The slower you breathe, the deeper the relaxation. Be patient with yourself as slow breathing can take some getting used to, but it does get easier with practice.

Did you know? Doing even 30 seconds of any of these five tips, practised regularly, can rewire your brain to naturally be more positive and resilient to stress.

Noa Belling is author of Stress Less: Managing Anxiety In A Modern World (£15.99, Rockpool Publishing) with tips to help you manage stress through practical exercises. Visit noabelling.com.

Words: Noa Belling. Images: Shutterstock.