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Stress is part of our everyday lives – we are always rushing about, stressed about getting things done and just downright busy. But do we know how bad stress is for us?

Increased stress levels cause the release of the hormone cortisol which is associated with our ‘flight or fight’ response – the part of our sympathetic nervous system that was used to stop us from being eaten by wild animals in our Paleolithic days. It’s now overused on a daily basis and such high levels of cortisol have been linked with heart disease, digestive issues, insomnia, weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, low immune function, low bone density, depression… and even cancer.

If you're finding yourself overstressed and unable to focus, stop and try one of these simple stress busters (they all take less than 5 minutes each!!!)

If you’re finding things are getting out of control or you just need to break the cycle, use these simple stress busters that take less than 5 minutes.

1 – Smile.

Do whatever it takes to smile. If it means faking it, then go ahead (it still works) or just watch a funny cat video on YouTube. Studies even back this one up, simply smiling can actually reduce stress.

2 – Close your eyes and let your thoughts wander.

I find myself getting more stressed when I have to try harder to keep my mind on track so this exercise is great for me… I simply sit back with my eyes closed and allow myself to think whatever thoughts I need to.

I sometimes take notes if I am thinking of things I need to do as well. I find that 5 minutes of random thoughts allows me to clear my mind enough to be able to focus on whatever I needed to do and stops me stressing about all the things I have to think about.

3 – Make yourself a cup of tea.

Or a pot. I love tea! You can be extra stress-busting by making yourself a calming tea such as Chamomile. The simple act of stopping to enjoy a cup of tea can be such a calming experience. You only need a few minutes to relax and let the stress fade away.

4 – Walk outside and face the sun.

Breathe in the fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Changing your scenery, moving outdoors and breathing in some fresh air can all really help in reducing stress. Spend a few minutes enjoying the outdoors and gain a new perspective on whatever you are tackling.

5 – Pop your earphones in and listen to your favourite song.

Music is such a powerful tool. It has the ability to make us feel excited, motivated, angry, pumped, sad, emotional… and most of all, happy. Turn up your speakers or pop in your earphones and zone out while listening to your favourite tune – you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel afterwards.

6 – Do a quick little workout.

Exercise releases these wonderfully powerful hormones called Endorphins. You don’t have to run a mile to feel the benefits. Endorphins improve our mood, increase our pleasure and reduce our pain. All of which are effects that help bust through stress.

7 – Eat a piece of (dark) chocolate.

It has been found that eating small amounts of chocolate can increase levels of endorphins (see above) and serotonin in the body. Serotonin is another powerful neurotransmitter that is responsible for helping us to feel happy and is targeted in most antidepressant drugs. Do I need to convince you any more?

8 – Close your eyes and practice deep breathing for one minute.

I always thought this was a bit of a farce but since actually trying it I swear it works. Breathing is something we take for granted and think that we just do it well because… well… we are breathing. But actually paying attention to how we breathe and ensuring we are taking big, deep, relaxing breaths can make a massive difference to how we feel. Deep breathing for just one minute can have a significant calming effect and therefore help reduce your stress levels.

9 – Meditate for 5 minutes.

Albeit this may not always be possible and your boss might look at you a little strange if you are sitting at your desk meditating but if you can, find a quiet place (I have a toddler, I understand this can be difficult) and take some time to practice meditation. Effective meditation doesn’t just happen, it does take practice, but the results are worth it.

10 – Strike a (yoga) pose.

Again, possibly not the easiest stress buster to do at work but why not give it a go. Now I’m no Yogi but I do know how amazing I feel after practising yoga and I understand the incredible benefits it has. Try any of these poses to help reduce your stress.

11 – Light your favourite smelling candle or burn essential oils.

The smell of eucalyptus always makes me feel relaxed, the smell of lemongrass and ginger reminds me of my time in Thailand… smells are powerfully emotive. Chamomile, jasmine and lavender are all said to have stress-reducing effects. Find a scent that works for you and enjoy its calming benefits.

Stress doesn’t need to take over our lives and it is our responsibility to take care of our health. I challenge you to try just one of these stress-reducing activities each day and see if you notice any difference.