Calm woman with eyes closed, hands near shoulders with thumbs and forefingers touching, feeling zen having adopted Jo Maughan's 28 stress hacks that actually work

28 Stress Hacks that actually work

February 2019
Stressed? Rushing around at a 1,000,000 mph? awake at 3 am with problems and to-do lists going round and round? Imagine feeling calm even when your clients (kids?) are being a nightmare and you need to work late. It’s possible…
Feel calm with my 28 stress hacks that really work. 28 easy techniques to slot into your day. Hacks that’ll make you feel more peaceful when life’s not perfect.
1. Mindful Moment. 
When you finish a task, don't rush onto the next thing straight away. Instead, close your eyes lightly. Pause for a few seconds. Take three breaths in and out. Slowly and consciously. Then open your eyes. You’re now ready to go again, from a centred place. Do this every time you finish a task.

2. Empower yourself with knowledge.
Watch this short clip about about what’s going on inside your mind when you feel stressed.
Feel better? It’s not just you. It’s how the mind works.

3. Challenge your thoughts.
Did you know, it's your unnoticed thoughts that cause you to feel stressed? Challenge your thoughts and stress ebbs away. How? Specifically tune into your thoughts and write them down. For example, 'I don't have time. It’ll be a disaster. I'll get sacked. I'll be out on the streets.' Then, apply the Facts, Opinions, Guesses test to each thought. Be like a lawyer when you do this. Very literally challenge and dissect each thought. Ask: Is it a fact, a guess or an opinion? Is it actually true? For example, is it actually true that you don't have time? No, it’s not a fact. You think you don’t have enough time, which is an opinion. Is it true it’ll be a disaster? No, it's a guess because it’s in the future. Get the idea? By challenging your thoughts in this way, you’ll start to see them for what they are: Just thoughts. Not facts. And if they’re not facts, you can choose not to believe them, they lose their power, and you’re already calmer.

4. Start that thing again.
What did you used to do to manage stress that works for you, and which you’ve let slide? Remember that thing? Perhaps a walk at lunchtime? In bed by 10.30pm? Reading Hilary Mantel before you turn out the light? Putting your mobile away in a drawer at 8pm? Forgive yourself for forgetting, and start that thing again today.

5. Four Proven Steps to Reduce Stress and Live Happier. 
Click here to learn my favourite method to reduce stress. Use it again and again, and you’ll find you’re less sensitised to the things that currently stress you out.

6. Get rid of the cortisol & adrenaline in your body.
When you’re stressed, your body produces cortisol for that fight/ flight/ freeze reaction and adrenaline to keep you going. The thing is, when you finish presenting, hit that deadline, or get out of the way of your aggressive boss, the chemicals are still there unless you get rid of them. And if you don’t get rid of them, you’re already primed to feel stressed again when you’re next triggered. The answer. Get rid of these chemicals by: Going for a run or fast walk. Scream and shout while playing Firestarter. Kick the tyres of your VW. Swear and hit the cushions of your oh-so-stylish teal sofa. My point is - let out the chemicals and your built-up emotions in a way that feels okay for you. I like to push hard against the door in my lounge until the pent-up tears come.

7. Mindful noticing for calmer weekends.
This weekend, if work pops into your mind, notice it. Then, imagine the thought floating away from you on the breeze, or running away from you down river. (Or conjure up any other 'away from' image that you like.) Tell yourself, ‘I don’t have to engage with this thought. It’s just a thought. I choose to let it go.’ In this way, you’ll stay 'present' to the moment you're in, rather than getting caught up in what's happening next week.

8. Get out in nature.
A short walk outside where all you do is focus on what’s around you is hugely calming and relaxing. Pay attention to what’s about: hear the robin cheep, look at the greyish-green leaves on the oak tree, feel the cool breeze on your cheeks, smell the earthy soil. Take it all in through your senses. And as you do, consciously breathe in and out. On the out breath, imagine letting go of your tension and stress.

9. Turn off notifications.
If you’re constantly checking your phone, you’re constantly being bombarded with new in-coming information = more things to think about or do = more stress. Help yourself out by turning off all buzzes and beeps. And train yourself to look at your phone less. I’ve turned off all my email notifications including on the icon badge so I only know I’ve got new emails when I explicitly choose to go in to check. I’m training myself to only do this 2-3 times per day.

10. Be grateful.
I have a cute notebook that I write in three things I’m grateful for each morning, such as, my warm & cosy home, my hubby, Bill, and the blackbirds that live in my garden. I take a few minutes to enjoy writing down my three things and to really appreciate them. I re-read them and smile to myself. This practice reduces stress because when you're feeling grateful, your mind doesn't have space to focus on negative, stressy thoughts.

11.  Get to the bottom of what’s causing your stress. 
Why? Because, there'll be something you're believing about yourself that’s critical and judgemental. It's deep down and it's the driver of your stress. Find out what it is and everything changes. Your stress evaporates. In a minute ask yourself these questions. Notice the first thing that pops into your head: What do you think you have to do? Why?

For me, I thought I had to work hard to prove I was up to the job or else I thought I wasn’t good enough. I was never satisfied unless everything was done or under control. This made me feel stressed and was in fact causing my stress. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So when you discover your unhelpful belief, do two things: (1) challenge your belief with contrary evidence and reason; and (2) feel and express the emotions that go with it.

It's important to do both as doing only the first won't disrupt the existing neural pathways in your brain, meaning you won’t feel any different. 'How do I do that?' you may be wondering. The best tools I know are the ones I learnt with More to Life, a personal development charity.

12. Listen to your body.
Don't push on through when you've got a headache, or your neck and shoulders are tight. Your body is trying to tell you something. Something like - slow down, rest, take the pressure off. Carrying on, ignoring how you’re physically feeling will lead to more serious health problems in the long run, such as back ache, anxiety, panic attacks and more. I used to have chronic upper back ache when I was 36-42. Now I don’t because I listened in and worked out how to be productive without pushing myself hard.

13. Have phone-free time.
Follow Arianna Huffington’s advice and set yourself some phone-free time. I don’t look at my phone after dinner each evening. That means I put it away at about 9pm. A friend of mine, Mike, has phone-free weekends or phone-free Saturdays or Sundays. He says it really helps him fully enjoy that walk along the Thames with his wife, their lunch at Tate Modern, and time just chillin’.

14. Reframe it. 
When you’re having a really bad day and then you spill your Costa coffee all over your keyboard, ask yourself: ‘What can I learn from this?’

15. Reflect.
I carry an A5 notebook in my bag. At the moment, it’s a turquoise one. Each day on my commute or before I start work, I reflect and journal on the day just gone. I find it relaxing to hand write notes to myself about what happened. Reflecting helps me spot patterns of thinking and behaving, so I can work out what it is I may want to change in me, my life or my relationships to keep happy and healthy.

16. Get enough sleep. 
You know how much sleep you need to start the day feeling like you can handle whatever the kids and your demanding boss throw at you. No excuses - commit when you’ll go to bed each weekday night and do it. For me, it’s 11pm. Start the wind-down, 10-30 mins before you want to go to sleep.

17. Kill negative thoughts.
This is so important. And yet it’s difficult to do because our brains seem to be wired to have negative thoughts. Consider this: Have you ever thought: I’m stupid, lazy, fat, ugly, slow, not good enough, etc? Have you ever thought: I’m clever, productive, slim, just-right, beautiful, kind, quick, a joy to be with, etc? Do the first or the second flavours come up more often? If it’s the first (the negative ones), these will be making you feel worried, anxious or stressed. What to do? Practise noticing your negative thoughts as they come up, then consciously choose to think something positive about yourself instead. I like to imagine I have a blackbird sitting on my shoulder who’s noticing my thoughts.

18. Know your values and live by them.
When I was working at a big, multi-national energy company I felt like I didn’t fit in so I thought I had to adjust myself. Later, I came to realise that there was a values mis-match; the values I saw being acted out around me didn’t match my own, which led to a feeling of unease and stress. Do you feel the same? If yes, it could be time to leave your organisation and join one where your values are their values.

19. Change your physical position.
You’ve been sitting at your computer for the last two hours. If you could see yourself you’d see that your shoulders are rounded forward, your eyes are straining, concentration shows in the vertical creases between your eyebrows. Your mood will match how you look – your energy is dipping, you may feel a bit stressed, and you’re thinking ‘you should push on and just finish this’. This is when to stand-up, stretch, roll your shoulders, take a quick walk, get a drink. Why? Because research shows that changing our physical position has the power to change how we feel.

20. 23 ½ hours.
Watch this fun, short clip from Dr Mike Evans where he invites you to make one, simple change to your day that’ll help you manage your stress AND improve your overall well-being.
21. Laugh.
I bet you know that laughing causes feel-good endorphins to course around your body? Lesser known is that the same part of the brain lights up whether you’re genuinely laughing or faking it. So, when you’re feeling stressed go watch a funny video on YouTube to get yourself laughing. Soon you’ll feel better and be genuinely laughing. My go-to video is Chewbacca Mom.

22. Talk to a friend.
Ever said: ‘I just need to get this off my chest. You won’t believe what she did today. I just couldn’t believe it. My heart was racing. I was in shock. She….’.

Remember how much better you felt after you’d talked to your bestie?

But this hack can be easy to forget when you’re stressed because your perspective narrows. Right, so, spend a moment now, remembering who your go-to person is: the person you can moan to, who will listen and not judge, and who’ll give you a hug when you need one.

23. Mindfulness.
Practising mindfulness may seem like a fad but it really works. I do 5-10 mins of mindful breathing each morning, and I feel the benefit. Perhaps you’re thinking you don’t have time to learn it? Well, here’s the thing: you don’t need to go on a course and there’s no ‘proper’ way to do it.

Here’s a short mindfulness exercise for you in just six steps: (a) sit quietly and close your eyes; (b) breath in and out, being aware of each breath; (c) go ‘inside’ yourself and notice how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking; just notice and ‘be with’ yourself however you are; (d) continue to be with yourself in this quiet way; if you notice thoughts come, say to yourself, ‘there’s a thought. I can let it float by’, and refocus your attention on your breath; (e) just before you’re about to finish and open your eyes, decide what you’ll choose to do or how you’ll choose to be in the next moments of your day e.g. I choose not to check my emails until 11am, I choose to be kind to myself, or I choose to go home at 6pm today; (f) open your eyes, and implement your choice.

There are free guided mindfulness tracks on YouTube. Headspace is a mindfulness App that’s free for a trial period.

24. Let go of how you think things SHOULD be. 
My mum is someone who causes herself stress by thinking she knows how things SHOULD be rather than accepting them as they are. She’ll phone to say she’s been out to lunch, and tell me how her lasagne wasn’t cooked how she likes it (crispy on top), how the servers were scruffy, how there was too long a break between starters and mains, and more… I ask, ‘did you enjoy it?’ She says, ‘well sort of but it wasn’t as good as it should have been.’ Ummm. It’s the gap between how you think things should be and how they are that causes much stress. Let go of the SHOULD and there’s no gap for the stress to creep into.

Now, I’m not advocating being so laid back & accepting that you become a door mat, or that you must put up with something that’s not okay by you. What I’m advocating is not letting yourself stress about things that really don’t matter.

25. Dance it out. 
A tactic used by Meredith and Cristina. It works! Put on your favourite, up-beat music LOUD and dance it out. Dance until you feel better.

26. Limit the time you spend with people who bring you down.
Jim Rohn famously said we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s still helpful to limit the time you spend with your Uni friend who brings you down, or your brother who brags about his big house and business trips. Instead, maximise the time you spend with people you genuinely like and around whom you’re happy being ‘you’.

27. Watch your language.
If you tell yourself you SHOULD finish that report before you go home, that you GOTTA ring your mum, MUST clean the bathroom, OUGHT TO go to the gym, MUST sort the spare room and more, watch your language. Shoulds, musts, have tos, gottas, ought tos are all words that subtly reveal how you’re driving yourself hard and harshly = you’re more likely to feel stressed when you don’t live up to your expectations. Next time you notice yourself talking to yourself like this, stop it! Ask yourself what you want instead.

28. Yoga. 
A friend of mine, Amanda, says her 20 mins yoga practice each day keeps her well and healthy, and holds stress at bay. She watches a video to guide her in the exercises but she started off doing a class. Book yourself into a local class. See what yoga can do for you.

Is your stress a sign of something else? Do you want your career and life to be different but don’t know where to start? Click on the image or button below to grab your free copy of my Rethink Your Life Toolkit.

This Toolkit will get you unstuck! Inside you get my 7 step Rethink Your Life system, within which to rethink your career and life (the very same system I use with my clients), and I give you the 7 questions you need to ask yourself to work out what would make you feel happier and fulfilled. Click on the button or image below and get your free Toolkit today.
About Jo Maughan
Jo Maughan is the founder of YourThinkingPartner. Her first career was as a FTSE 100 Tax Director. After suffering a fall and a significant brain injury, she overcame her fears to follow her calling as a coach and artist. She is now living the life she was meant to live, inspiring successful mid-life professionals at or near the top of their careers to rethink their careers & lives for more balance, fulfillment, purpose & joy. She and her clients use her 7 step Rethink Your Life system. Jo is a sought after speaker and is currently writing her first book.
Career coach, Jo Maughan, in a red coat, smiling.
Quite Interesting....
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  • Your mind takes just 1/12 of a second to interpret something and jump into its automatic thought pattern.  
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