Wellbeing and Careers Hub > Wellbeing

Highly Effective Stress-Busters

Highly Effective Stress-Busters

April is Stress Awareness Month and we've listed some highly effective stress-busting activities that you can incorporate into your daily routine.

Staff absence can often be caused by stress, so identifying the causes is vital for team managers and leaders. Sometimes we don't even realise we are stressed until we take some time off and, in many cases, get ill. Extreme stress at work can lead to you feeling exhausted, disengaged and unable to cope, leading to burnout. The World Health Organisation recognises that stress is a ‘syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’

Working from home and the effects of Covid-19 have certainly increased stress. According to the research by insurer AXA, nearly two-thirds (64%) of those in work across the UK and Europe said their work-related stress levels had increased compared with pre-pandemic levels. Of these, eight out of ten (81%) described themselves as having a ‘poor’ or ‘low’ state of mind. 

If you find yourself feeling any of these symptoms, then it is highly likely you are stressed:

  • Feeling irritation, anger, or in denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

Take a look at our different stress-busting activities below, but if you are really struggling be sure to seek professional help.

1. Nordic walking 

This is a great all-around exercise that uses 90% of our skeletal muscles and burns up to 46% more calories than ordinary walking. Nordic walking is a Finnish-origin total-body version of walking that can be enjoyed both by non-athletes as a health-promoting physical activity and by athletes as a sport. The activity is performed with specially designed walking poles similar to ski poles. The poles reduce the pressure on knees and joints and is an excellent exercise for any age. It also boosts the heart and lungs and is ideal for those suffering from neck, shoulder and back problems. The poles propel the walker along, making it easier to move faster than average without feeling the effort. It's a good idea to start some classes with a trained instructor to learn the correct technique to get the best of your walk. Click here to find a class.

Benefits: Nordic walking will burn more calories, raise your heart rate, and you'll walk faster than ordinary walking whilst supporting knee joints.

2. Trampolining

Using a mini-trampoline, or rebounder as they are known, is a fun way of working out and stress-busting at the same time. Rebounding has many benefits and a study from NASA found that rebounding is more effective than running in building bone and muscle mass. 

It is a low-impact cardio workout that has minimal impact on your joints. Some gyms introduced mini-trampoline classes before lockdown and these are easy to do at home. The best thing is that they needn't be expensive and models can be found on Argos for under £30. It is a great way to step away from your desk and take a few minutes to bounce and get the blood circulating before logging onto your next Zoom call. There is a unique technique to it whereby you jump down into the surface rather than jumping up. There are many videos available that give instructions and workouts designed specifically for the rebounder. One of the most beneficial aspects of rebounding exercise is its ability to improve balance, agility and coordination. 

Benefits: An easy and affordable exercise to do at home, takes up little room and can be done at any age. And it's fun! 

3. Hydration

Water is the most important nutrient for our bodies after oxygen. Water is vital for our body to function correctly and our skin looks better when it is adequately hydrated. Adequate hydration levels vary from person to person, but it's important to note that your brain is strongly influenced by your hydration status. Studies show that even mild dehydration, such as the loss of 1–3% of body weight, can impair many aspects of brain function. Dehydration leads to fatigue because it impacts oxygen flow to the brain and causes your heart to work harder to pump oxygen to all your bodily organs, making you more tired and less alert. By staying hydrated, you stay energised. Furthermore, water cleanses the body of toxins as it improves your blood circulation, flushing out toxins and impurities. 

Water also reduces stress. Studies have shown that dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels — the stress hormone. By staying hydrated, you will be better equipped to deal with everyday problems. Make drinking water a morning ritual - many people wake up dehydrated. Always keep a glass of water with you when you're working to ensure that you're hydrated throughout the day.

Benefits: Water boosts your energy, reduces stress, flushes out toxins and is readily available.

4. Nia Technique

Nia is a sensory-based barefoot dance practice that blends martial arts power with the gentle healing of yoga and the joy of dance. There are 7000 nerve endings on the bottom of each foot. When we take off our shoes, we are both physically and emotionally grounding. We're able to sense much more, not just through our feet but through the whole body. This allows you to move with greater purpose, consciousness and awareness. Click here to watch an example of a Nia class.  

Benefits: Movements will burn calories, reduce body fat, create strength and muscle definition, and promote balance, grace, flexibility, endurance and good posture. 

5. Cold water immersion

Cold water swimming: During the short breaks we’ve had during lockdown, it has been reported that there has been a massive increase in cold water swimming. Enthusiasts believe that wild or cold-water swimming is a perfect way to de-stress. For many, it acts as a form of mindfulness or meditation, bringing them into the moment, focusing their mind on the physical sensations, and taking them away from their worries. However, it is essential to acclimatise gradually. If it's your first time in cold water, arrive feeling really warm by taking a good hearty walk beforehand. Once you're in the water, it takes a few minutes before the cold feeling goes away, so persevere and you'll feel great. In general, the more you swim in cold water, the less you will feel the cold and the greater the health benefits - this is called 'cold adaptation'. Don't stay in so long that you start to shiver though, and definitely get out and warm up after 20 minutes.

Cold water showers: Cold water sends many electrical impulses to your brain. They jolt your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels. Endorphins, which are sometimes called the happy hormones, are also released. This leads to feelings of wellbeing and optimism and serves as a great stress buster. As with cold water swimming, it is best to ease into the habit of having cold water showers. Start by slowly lowering the temperature at the end of your usual shower. Make the water cold enough that you start to feel uncomfortable. Then, stay underneath the water for 2 or 3 minutes. Try breathing deeply to help ease the sense of discomfort. Next time you try it, turn the water slightly colder and stay under for another minute or two. Gradually you will acclimatise and enjoy the benefits.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and cold water: The vagus nerve is an integral part of the parasympathetic nervous system, connecting many organs, such as the brain, heart, liver, and gut. Having a ‘low vagal tone’ means that the vagus nerve is impaired in its functioning — a well-known cause of stress. This can subsequently lead to conditions such as anxiety, depression, gut problems, and inflammation. Stimulating the vagus nerve can increase vagal tone and have a significant positive effect on the functioning of your body. Exposing your body to acute cold conditions, such as taking a cold shower or splashing cold water on your face, increases the vagus nerve's stimulation.

Benefits: Cold water immersion provides a sense of elation and relaxation, soothes muscle aches, relieves depression and boosts the immune system. This can also be achieved at home by taking a daily cold shower and can stimulate the vagus nerve.

6. Jigsaw puzzles

Sales of jigsaw puzzles have rocketed throughout the pandemic, and newer, more exciting designs are available specifically targeted at adults. Studies have shown that doing jigsaw puzzles can improve cognition and visual-spatial reasoning. Simply matching the pieces of a puzzle together requires concentration and improves both short-term memory and problem-solving abilities. Using the puzzle as an exercise for the mind can spark imagination and increase your creativity and productivity. Piece & Quiet is a young company offering unique and exciting artistic puzzles to promote mindfulness and creativity. Build your jigsaw library and swap them with friends. 

Benefits: Relaxing, improves cognition, inexpensive, and stress-busting. It can also be a solitary or group activity.

If you have any thoughts, experiences, news or advice on workplace wellbeing that you would like to share, please see our submission page for more information.