Your A to Z guide to year-end stress relief

26 uplifting ways to take the pressure off during busy periods and soothe your body and soul.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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26 uplifting ways to take the pressure off during busy periods and soothe your body and soul.

Challenge yourself! It might not sound very soothing but setting goals for the season helps you build confidence, which in turn boosts your ability to deal with pressure.


A is an easy and quick way to relieve stress. Simply light up a candle or diffuser containing essential oils and other natural plant extracts, as these release scents that can create a feeling of deep relaxation when inhaled. Diptyque’s scented candles, $102 each, feature around 50 different fragrances with fruity, floral, herbal, spicy or woody notes.

Breathe correctly

Ideally, you should stop and take deep breaths regularly, two or three times a day, to keep calm. But it’s also effective for on-the-spot relief. Stress experts suggest the following technique: Loosen any tight clothing or belts and lie down or sit in a comfy chair that supports your head.

Breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm, filling your lungs with air without forcing it. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, counting from one to five. Do this until you feel calm – for about three to five minutes.

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Diet can help

“Junk food and caffeine can make you feel jittery,” says mental health spokesperson Sam Challis. Instead, aim for a balanced diet based on fresh whole foods, with lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain carbs, and lean meat and fish. “And although it’s tempting to reach for a glass of wine when you’ve had a tough day, limit yourself to one or two drinks – too much alcohol can make you feel more anxious the next day,” says Sam.


Hours’ sleep is crucial for staying calm. German research has found that people who sleep for just six hours a night have double the levels of stress hormone cortisol as those who get eight hours’ shut-eye. Eight hours is the optimal amount of sleep and will help you feel more in control. And stress can trigger insomnia. If sleep problems persist, see your GP.


Boosts your ability to cope, so something like having a hobby is crucial for helping you keep stress under control. And it doesn’t have to be too upbeat like dancing, just try to introduce some fun into each day. Start by smiling more and wearing bright clothes – it really makes a difference.


Can help you feel more positive. And don’t worry if you’re a glasshalf- empty type – you can train yourself to be more positive. Try to write down five things you’re grateful for at the end of each day.

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High tea

Sessions can be very de-stressing, says Racheal Olivero, 34, who’s a Senior Manager. “The end of year is the best time to gather your girlfriends and catch up with each other’s lives over aromatic cups of tea or coffee and sweet treats.”

Identify what’s important to you

Working hard on something that matters is less stressful than putting in long hours on jobs you don’t enjoy. We can’t always spend time doing what we enjoy, but knowing what matters to you means you can work towards doing more of the things you like.

Jokes ease tension, and there’s nothing like watching your favourite comedy to put you in a better frame of mind. “Laughter’s an effective coping mechanism,” says Benjamin Bonetti, author of How to Stress Less. “Getting things in perspective and seeing the funny side of life releases tension and can also reduce levels of stress hormones circulating in your body.” Time to start watching those cute YouTube cat videos…

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Kissing triggers the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone that lowers stress levels, according to US research. So grab your loved one and pucker up!

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Listening to music

Helps you unwind, says Platts Associate Editor Karen Ng, 36. “It’s the little things that sometimes make a big impact in combating stress and music is one of those. Whenever I’m feeling frazzled, I try to put on some classical music like Bach to calm me down and inject some much-needed Zen back into my day.”

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Is great for easing muscle tension and studies have found that it could lower levels of cortisol and improve quality of life. “Making time for myself is the best way to de-stress,” says Angela Lee, a teacher in her 40s. She says, “I often go for a body massage or facial to look nice and feel good. My favourite is a weekly aromatherapy massage that takes away all my muscular tension and eases my mind. I am then ready for another hectic week at work, cooking for my family or preparing for the year-end family trip!”

NO – a simple word that can help you take control and ease the pressure. Taking on too much and working long hours is a classic cause of stress. Learning to say ‘no’ (in a constructive manner, of course) is vital for helping you manage your to-do list. “This doesn’t just apply at work – sometimes you may need to say ‘no’ to demanding friends and family members,” says stress expert and psychotherapist Gladeana McMahon.

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Prepare well

For long-haul flights, especially if you’re flying with an infant. Vanessa Tan, 33, who’s an educator and devoted mother-ofone, flew on a seven-hour flight to Tokyo recently with her husband and child. “For a fuss-free baby and worry-free parents, lifesaving items to pack include a milk bottle in hand, baby’s favourite toys, snacks, a pacifier and baby programmes loaded into an iPad.”

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Time can be blissful and help de-clutter your mind. “When life tips you off balance, the natural instinct is to respond by correcting things through action,” says John Lees, author of Secrets Of Resilient People. “But important decisions made under pressure may not be quality ones. Finding a calm space allows you to step back. This can be physical space which encourages quiet reflection, like a room in your home that is free of electronic screens and devices, or while commuting.”

Resilience is an important skill

“The ability to bounce back and worry less is essential for dealing with stress,” says John Lees. Worry exacerbates stress and makes you feel powerless. “Make a note, such as writing down a phrase like ‘bank loan’ to remind you, then put the thought aside. Worry when you are calmer, and the problems will seem much smaller and the solutions more obvious.” he says.

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Soothes the soul. A good network support is essential, and one of the reasons stress is a bigger problem these days is that we tend to be more isolated. Being with friends helps you relax, but it also means you know you have people to turn to when things get difficult, which can take the edge off the pressure. When you do have problems, talking to a good friend can be a great way to find a solution.

Travel. 30-year-old Investment Services Executive Serene Ng says, “I make a conscious effort to plan a trip, be it long or short, to break out of my daily cycle. There is something about being in a different environment that is especially relaxing.”

Understand what you can and can’t change

“To protect yourself from stress, it helps to be able to discern the difference between what you have some control over and what you don’t,” says John. It sounds simple, but it means you’ll stop wasting energy fighting against things you can’t change and focus more positively on what you can do.

Volunteering lowers stress – that’s according to research which found that 78 per cent of people report that volunteering has a soothing effect. The reason? Helping people in a worse position can put your own issues into perspective. There are many local organisations you could contribute time or money to.

Work smart instead of hard. Good time management is a crucial skill for mastering the art of calm. Make a list of everything you have to do at the beginning of each day, then number the list according to what needs to be done first and what can wait. Start with the most urgent tasks and don’t necessarily expect to have done everything by the end of the day – instead, start a new list and move anything you haven’t ticked off to the next day. This helps lower your sense of overload.

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does not mean porn, but we are talking about your sex life. This is because sex lowers stress hormones and relieves anxiety, say Scottish researchers. In the study, those who had sex during a two-week period reported lower stress than those who didn’t. Make physical contact a priority, says Gladeana – even if you don’t have sex, being sensual with each other can help you relax.

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Is the classic stressbusting exercise. US research looked at 200 women recovering from breast cancer and found that those who did yoga for 90 minutes twice a week experienced less stress, decreased fatigue and improved vitality.

Zumba – and other dance activities – can help reduce tension. The combination of physical activity and socialising makes dance a double whammy against pressure build-up.