To highlight National Stress Awareness Month, Make Your Switch trainer Stuart Pilkington reveals how to use nature – and the power of your body – to chill out:

Anything from a tight deadline, a tricky day, or even a sugary meal can trigger the release of stress hormones. But, through meditation and exercise, you can easily calm your body and mind.

Get outside

Spending time in nature is key – think of how many spas or yoga centres use sounds of waves, rain or a gentle breeze to create feelings of calm. When you’re surrounded by nature, exercising or meditating, your thoughts slow and distractions of modern life fade away.

Be sure to check out the ‘Rewilding’ edition of Top Santé (out May 17th) for some top tips, but for now, here’s a simple five-point meditation guide:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Against a tree or a bench is fine.
  • Close your eyes and bring your lips together without clenching your jaw.
  • Slowly begin to breathe in, flooding all the air into your tummy until it inflates as much as it can.
  • Hold for a moment and then slowly breathe all the way out through your mouth, while pulling your belly button to your spine.
  • Continue to do this for 5-10 minutes. Each time your mind wanders off or thoughts jump in, don’t worry, its the same for everyone – all you need to do is let those thoughts go. This time is just for you, so focus on your breath and give your full attention to the experience.

Keep on moving

You can also use exercise as a quick and easy calming method. It does this by putting your body under a healthy kind of stress.

It’s not a case of working to the point of breakdown. Instead, use breathing to connect your mind to the exercise, and your mind and body will feel calm and better cope with situations.

Whether boxing or running, any activity you enjoy counts, but yoga is a particularly good example. Styles such as Vinyasa Flow, Power Yoga or Ashtanga are quite physical. But, during the entire session, the teacher will have you focus on long, deep breaths, fixing your gaze on specific parts of your body or even at times closing your eyes. This helps your mind take control of the situation. Instead of being overwhelmed, you will feel calm. I always say to my students: ‘If you control your thoughts, you control your actions and life!’

Your body views all stress as a chemical reaction, no matter its cause. So if you can control your stress response during exercise or a tough yoga class by focusing on something as simple as breathing, you can control stress when someone cuts you up in traffic for the 10th time that morning!

Take time to reflect

Whether through meditation or exercise, always try to take time to reflect on your calm experience. Too often we rush off to the next responsibility. This means we don’t always check in with how we feel after we consciously de-stress. Simply stop for two minutes to ask yourself: how do I feel right now? Have my thoughts slowed down a little? Do I feel energised? Calmer? Better? Undoubtedly so, and who wouldn’t want to feel like that each day?

For more tips, see