It’s little wonder, then, that we’re more highly-strung than ever before. Recent research found that one in five women confesses to feeling anxious most or all of the time. And some 53 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued in the last year alone. So can the only way to truly conquer stress be through a bottle of pills?
Thankfully not. Starting today, the Mail introduces an unmissable series which will teach you easy tricks to beat anxiety in every area of your life, and show how you can easily master the new stress-busting technique everyone is talking about: mindfulness.
Recent research found that one in five women confesses to feeling anxious most or all of the time. And some 53¿million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued in the last year alone
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS? Stressed-out MPs and City bankers have embraced it. Hollywood stars swear by it. Big corporations such as Google and Procter & Gamble teach it to their staff. Schools are developing ways to teach it to children. And it’s even recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence — the health service watchdog — as a preferred NHS treatment for depression. Medics say that practising mindfulness can considerably lower your stress levels, mean that you see your doctor less often and spend fewer days in hospital. Not only this, but devotees insist that your memory improves, and your creativity increases.
And best of all, mindfulness is easy to learn and can even be done on the go.
While it has its roots in Buddhist meditation, it certainly doesn’t involve sitting cross-legged or chanting ‘om’. It is, quite simply, the act of trying to be properly ‘aware’ of what you are doing at any given time.
So instead of chatting while texting, or reading emails while simultaneously planning what you’re going to cook for dinner, you can use mindfulness to help your brain to slow down and clear everything from your mind.
With the help of mindfulness, you can give your full attention to what you are doing, and develop a sense of peace and contentment.
While it’s normal for the mind to wander, according to psychotherapist Padraig O’Morain, author of new book Mindfulness On The Go, our hectic brains can also cause unnecessary anguish.
‘When your mind wanders, you can fall into brooding about the past, which can lead to depression, or into recycling worries about the future, which can elevate anxiety,’ he says.
Practising mindfulness, even for a few seconds, gives your brain a little respite, a moment of focus, before it gets pulled away into the clutter of the real world.
The aim of practising mindfulness is to become more aware of your feelings without getting tangled up in them. Then, instead of being overwhelmed by your thoughts, you can manage them better.
Many mindfulness teachers encourage you to set aside ten or even 20 minutes each day for a proper mindfulness session to ground you. However, Padraig O’Morain is convinced we can all reap its many benefits by simply sprinkling short and simple exercises throughout our day.
The aim of practising mindfulness is to become more aware of your feelings without getting tangled up in them
There’s no need to sit in a darkened room, or peel yourself away from a frantic schedule. Mindfulness can be performed in the middle of a conversation, during a meeting, while showering or brushing your teeth. And best of all, no one needs to know.
HOW DO YOU DO IT? The way to start is to use a simple breathing technique to focus your attention and clear your mind. Known as 7/11 breathing, it’s so easy you can do it anywhere — on the bus, walking to work, at your desk or even in bed.
All you have to do is count to seven as you breathe in, then count to 11 as you breathe out. Making each ‘out’ breath last longer than the ‘in’ breath is a natural way of making the body relax, and the simple act of counting will take your mind away from all its other distractions.
As you breathe and count, your buzzing brain will be forced to slow down. It will momentarily stop pinging forwards into the future, or back into the past, running through pointless regrets or never-ending to-do lists.
This gives your brain the space it so sorely needs to relax, which will help you to function more effectively in the rest of your life.
At first, it may not be easy to last to the full count of 11 on the ‘out’ breath — but you will improve over time. Don’t force things, or you’ll end up gasping for air. Just breathe steadily and easily at a pace that suits you. You can do this once or for five minutes consistently — however long it takes you to feel calm.
HOW CAN IT HELP MY MARRIAGE? There is huge potential for stress in even the most idyllic relationship. Whether it’s one of you leaving the loo seat up or over-spending on a credit card, relationship stress can so easily build, triggering arguments and tension. But mindfulness can stop those tensions getting out of hand. Before you raise a difficult issue with your spouse , or if you can sense a row is brewing, take time out to do your 7/11 breathing first.
According to Padraig O’Morain, practising mindfulness can give you the presence of mind to avoid rising to the bait or flying off the handle. And it can empower you with the strength and focus to be firm and clear about getting your needs across without being aggressive.
Scientific studies show mindfulness can strengthen our control over our emotions, making us less likely to be hijacked by our feelings and less reactive to emotional triggers. This means mindfulness can help you take a balanced view when you’re stressed — a definite plus in navigating a marital showdown.
THE MINDFUL PAUSE
This couldn’t be more simple. If a row catches you unawares, or a tricky conversation starts to spin out of control, just stop whatever you are doing or thinking for the split second it takes to inhale . . . and exhale. It’s rather like a micro-version of 7/11 breathing.
That tiny pause gives your brain the chance to think: ‘I need to say this’, or: ‘I had best not say that’. It gives you a second or two to see that you have more than one choice and to make the choice that is most likely to work. It gives you enough time to work out whether your partner really is criticising you or not, stopping you from reacting impulsively to what might be a non-existent attack.
MINDFUL COMMUNICATION The foundation of successful communication for any couple is being able to truly listen to each other, without constructing a counter-argument in your head or indulging in ‘catastrophising’ — assuming the crisis is worse than it really is.
The essential mindful technique here is to ground yourself firmly in the present moment. Again, it’s very easy. Focus on one physical thing — be it the feeling of your feet on the floor, or your bottom on a chair. Breathe deeply. If they’re in the room, ask your partner to give you a moment to prepare in this way.
Then, once you’re ready, try these simple tips: Switch off all distractions and look directly at your spouse’s face and eyes when they are speaking and lean forwards towards them slightly (the body language of the attentive listener). Make a point of listening to the entire conversation. This sounds easy enough, but most of us are too busy formulating our reply before the other person has stopped speaking. When they finish speaking, summarise and paraphrase what your spouse said so they know you are listening.
ACCEPT YOUR DIFFERENCES
Marriage researchers say most of the long-term differences between partners are never resolved. Fighting over familiar issues can be a complete waste of time.
Your spouse may say something to you which is simply not worth the effort of arguing with. Now and then, you need to be able to shrug off their negative opinion of you, like a dog shaking off water.
If something hurtful happens (one of you criticises the other at a party or you have a blazing row) it is very tempting to repeat the scenario to yourself in your head, over and over again. But doing this will always amplify the distress and keep any feelings of resentment alive. Instead, acknowledge the hurt, and become aware of your feelings without getting caught up in them.
Think: ‘Yes, it is painful.’ Then you MUST move on. Whenever the memory flashes in to your mind think: ‘Oh yes, there it is. Noted.’ Briefly feel the hurt, then move on.
Think about your breathing or your posture, anything to distract yourself. You may still harbour resentment, but the important thing is to get to a point where you don’t obsess about it.
TACKLE YOUR FLASH POINTS
FLASH POINT: One partner putting more effort into the relationship, home or family than the other.
TIP: Many men see their role as bringing home the bacon and their wife’s role as being everything else, even if she also has a full-time job. But division of labour should be an agreement based on what’s most important to each partner.
Psychologist Professor Jane Ogden recommends ‘teddy talk’ to discuss your roles. This counselling exercise requires you to sit opposite each other with a teddy. The person holding the teddy is allowed to speak without interruption. Vitally, they can only use the word ‘I’, not ‘you’, which is too accusatory. The word ‘never’ is also forbidden, as is the phrase ‘you always’.
This act of re-phrasing forces you to think about what you are saying and the way you are delivering it.
Many men see their role as bringing home the bacon and their wife’s role as being everything else, even if she also has a full-time job. But division of labour should be an agreement based on what’s most important to each partner
FLASH POINT: Your relationship feels dull.
Many men see their role as bringing home the bacon and their wife’s role as being everything else, even if she also has a full-time job. But division of labour should be an agreement based on what’s most
important to each partner
TIP: ‘Mid-life malaise’ can be a real source of stress for many couples. Susanna Abse, a psychoanalytical therapist, and chief executive of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, stresses the importance of recognising the limitations of a long-term relationship if you really want it to last.
‘You may have to face giving up the longings you might have had for a different kind of partner, or a different kind of life,’ she says, ‘Although you might mourn that loss, it is important to focus instead on what you have now.’ She suggests sitting down to write a list of the positives about your partner and share the lists with each other. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
FLASH POINT: They’re not making an effort to look attractive for you.
TIP: This can happen as a relationship progresses, and before you know it, you only see them in the morning when they’re wearing their pyjamas or the evening when they’ve changed into comfy clothes after work. It can seem only other people see them looking at their best.
This may be a sign that things in the relationship are stagnating and can be a major cause of stress according to Neil Shah, Director of the Stress Management Society. Try introducing a weekly ‘date-night’ with certain rules — such as getting your hair done, being clean-shaven and surprising your partner by presenting yourself differently.
FLASH POINT: One of you is a lark, the other’s an owl.
TIP: Whether you keep different body clocks or keep each other awake with snoring or excessive fidgeting, relationship counsellor Francine Stock recommends considering separate beds. ‘Unzip your divan beds — just a few centimetres of separation can improve sleep and ease stress considerably,’ she says.
If your bed doesn’t split, she suggests scheduling two nights a week when you sleep in separate rooms. ‘It’s not the slippery slope of relationship decline that many people fear,’ she says.
‘It can be quite the contrary. A couple of nights good sleep can refresh and reinvigorate even the most stagnant relationship. And if it does make you feel guilty try scheduling extra sex to compensate.’
TIPS TO HELP YOUR HUSBAND STRESS LESS
Relationship problems can cause a man to become stressed, frustrated or even aggressive. According to The Stress Management Society, a natural male tendency is to withdraw. This destroys any chance of true intimacy. So:
If you spot the glazed look of a man so stressed he can no longer focus mentally, give him time to retreat into his ‘man cave’ — a physical space that’s just his — so he can process the issues without nagging. Don’t speak to him in ‘bloke’ language (for example, ‘Why the hell are you acting like this?’) if you want a warm, nurturing response. Most men are programmed to try to make you happy and just want to please you. Instead, try warm, feminine language (‘It makes me unhappy when you do this, I’m so much happier when you do that’). If you need something from him, tell him exactly what you need. Don’t expect him to read your mind. If necessary give him a list. Accept that men will deal with stress and solve problems differently to you, even if you don’t like or understand their ways.
TIPS TO HELP YOUR WIFE STRESS LESS Women may seem complex, yet they are often just looking for their core needs — to feel secure and cherished — to be met. So:
Be fearless and ensure you are seen as the one in control of a situation. Never be afraid to ask: ‘Is there anything I need to do for you?’ Be succinct and confident when you talk, and use a deep voice. If you think she might be upset or worried, ask her how she is feeling. Avoid making assumptions about what’s causing her problem — assuming you know what she’s feeling is a sure way to rile most women —and listen carefully to her answer.
DESTRESS YOUR SEX LIFE One of the most obvious causes of stress in a relationship is a failing sex life. But surprisingly, says sex and relationships expert Tracey Cox, it can actually be a sign that the foundations are good.
She says: ‘Very often, the better your relationship, the worse your sex life because after many years, a really strong bond can become rather sibling-like.’
The secret to shaking things up, she says, is to push yourselves out of your comfort zone — ‘be a bit naughty!’ — and have the courage to face up to potential sexual flash points.
FLASH POINT: Your lover’s sex drive is significantly higher/lower than your own.
TIP: According to Nick Achilleos, the director at The Stress Management Society, a mismatched sex drive can be a clear indication that your relationship could be generally out of balance. The solution doesn’t necessarily lie in finding some kind of sexual harmony.
‘You’d be better off trying first to connect with each other in different ways beyond the physical act of sex,’ says Nick. It could be giving each other massages — or even just spend time cuddling and kissing.
FLASH POINT: You/your partner suffers from erectile dysfunction.
TIP: As we get more stressed, our body starts to cut non-essential bodily function (including sexual function). Oxygenated blood is diverted to the major muscle groups and not to the sexual organs which can lead to erectile dysfunction.
So instead of putting in a bulk order for Viagra, concentrate on taking time out to relax. This can be a better boost to bedroom behaviour than any form of medication