Pass the stress test

A new year brings fresh anxiety and uncertainty for many. Our expert guide will help clear your mind and hopefully put a smile back on your face

Post-Christmas many people are returning to work and unfortunately recent research suggest this could be a pretty stressful time for a lot of people.

• Nearly one third – 32 per cent – of UK workers no longer enjoy work as much as they used to.

• Nineteen per cent said that they don’t have time to see a medical professional about their mental health.

• More than a fifth – 22 per cent – said that they are too busy to think about their mental health, despite having consistent symptoms of anxiety and depression.

These findings follow research published as early as 2011 that stress and other mental health concerns have been the primary cause of sick leave across the country. And earlier this year it was reported that stress and mental health is also the main cause of sick leave for NHS workers, according to NHS Digital Statistics.

“Our research shows that a truly startling number of Brits are suffering severe levels of stress and anxiety, due in a large part to the expectations and pressures at work,” said Gerard Barnes, CEO of Smart TMS. “More needs to be done to help people recognise symptoms of mental health conditions within their own behaviours and respond accordingly. It is also vital for everybody to understand that they are treatment options available, and there is no shame in admitting that there is an issue and finding appropriate treatment to manage it.”

Here are some top tips to help to deal with stress:

Split up big tasks: If a task seems overwhelming and difficult to start, try breaking it down into easier chunks, and give yourself credit for completing them.

Allow yourself some positivity: Take time to think about the good things in your life. Each day, consider what went well and try to list three things you’re thankful for. The way we think affects the way we feel.

Be more active: Being active can help you to burn off nervous energy. It will not make your stress disappear, but it can make it less intense.

Talk to someone: Trusted friends, family and colleagues, or contacting a helpline, can help us when we are struggling.

Plan ahead: Planning out any upcoming stressful days or events – a to-do list, the journey you need to do, things you need to take – can really help.


The 4-7-8 breathing technique, developed by Dr Andrew Weil, aims to reduce anxiety and can help people get to sleep.

The technique involves breathing in for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds. (The ratio is more important than the actual number of seconds so don’t worry if you can’t breathe in for four beats, for example).

Before starting the breathing pattern, adopt a comfortable sitting position and place the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth.

The breathing pattern works as follows:

• Empty the lungs of air

• Breathe in quietly through the nose for four seconds

• Hold the breath for a count of seven seconds

• Exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a ‘whoosh’ sound, for eight seconds

• Repeat the cycle up to four times. You can build up to more cycles once you’ve practiced and are comfortable with the technique.

Given budgets are often stretched after Christmas this is a great, free technique to help ease stress levels and get 2020 off to an amazing start.