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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Stress relief the Cherie way
Needle therapy: Do I look relaxed?
Cherie Blair has found a way to beat the stress of being a working mum and prime minister's wife: ear acupuncture. BBC News Online's Megan Lane follows her lead to see if needle therapy works.

It can't be easy living life as a top-flight barrister and mother-of-four who plays consort to the prime minister in her spare time.

Acupuncture stud in top of ear
Stress release: Cherie Blair's holistic ear stud
So it's little wonder that Cherie Blair has been spotted with an acupuncture stud in her ear. Located in a point in the ear known as shenmen, the holistic needle apparently helps relieve stress and promote relaxation.

Now, I don't have kids, I don't argue human rights cases in court, and I've never even met Tony Blair. But just living in London can be stressful enough, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Auricular acupuncturist Stella Simpson, of the Craven Clinic in west London, sticks five needles in each of my ears.

Stella Simpson
What really concerns me is whether I cleaned my ears
Rather than go right through, the tips of the thin metal rods merely break the skin surface. It doesn't hurt, and seems to bother the photographer more than it does me.

The needles apparently stimulate the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers also known as the "pleasure chemical", Ms Simpson says.

"It has much the same effect as doing vigorous exercise or eating chocolate."

Five needles
Five needles are inserted into each ear
By the time she removes the needles 20 minutes later, my shoulders have melted and I'm feeling a little dozy (although that may have something to do with being jolted awake at 5.30am by a departing neighbour).

In order to test whether I have indeed been de-stressed, I set about a few tasks selected for their capacity to cause aggravation.

Phone the council

I don't know if Cherie has ever had to deal with her local authority, but mine is an organisation that could try the patience of a saint.

The crystal pendant is supposed to ward of negative vibes from mobile phones, fluorescent lights and people
Three years ago, Cherie wore a New Age pendant
My task is to sort out a spot of unpleasantness with our rubbish collection (no details as you might be eating while you read this).

When I tried to get through last week, I was stuck in the phone queue for so long that my call timed out. I was cut off without ever getting past the automated voice thanking me for waiting.

My heart rate increases somewhat as the automated voice welcomes me once again to the phone queue. I first get through to one department, which fails to grasp my problem and so shunts me onto another... who prove to be very helpful.

STRESS RATING: Slightly anxious, but keeping calm helps get the job done

Run lunchtime errands

My aim is to leave Television Centre to buy stamps - and be back at my desk in less than 20 minutes.

Needle put into shenmen
Shenmen is the relaxation point at the top of the ear
Although the light industrial wasteland that is the road to Shepherd's Bush is hardly pleasant, the sun is shining. Not even the lorries barrelling past disrupt my inner calm.

I've timed it so I arrive at the post office just as the lunch rush should be starting.

But where are the little old ladies who typically form the bulk of the queue?

After being served in record-quick time, I even manage to secure a couple of the newly released scratch-and-sniff eucalyptus stamps and make it back in 22 minutes.

STRESS RATING: Relaxed, perhaps because of my extra serenity

Tea with the boss

Now no offence intended, but tea and small talk with the head honcho is hardly a stress-free prospect.

It's not that he's scary or grumpy, but he is, well, the boss. I must admit that of all the tasks I set myself, this one was the most foolhardy of all.

The thought of knocking on his office door, and asking him out of the blue if he would like a quick trip to the coffee bar...well I would need more than acupuncture to give me such resolve.

He'd think I'd gone mad, was plotting something nefarious, or had become a dreadful brown-noser.

But what a shame - the top brass are in a meeting... all morning.

Maybe the needles have worked some magic after all.

STRESS RATING: Needlessly jittery

Sleeping on the desk
OK, now I'm relaxed

Your comments so far:

I try to find something to laugh about. If people are being annoying, they are usually being funny as well.
Christine Axsmith, Washington DC, US

Surely that's not far away from the idea of piercing. I too have a piercing like Cherie's "holistic ear stud". If getting holes put in your ears is stress relief, why, I must be one of the least stressed people around.
Sarah Partridge, England

Yoga is good as is meditation. Although not always practical at work, you can always take 10 minutes out at lunchtime to meditate. Forget about everything and just breathe calmly.
Hiten Vadgama, UK

Being passed by motorcyclists while stuck in my car in slow traffic used to wind me up. But now I think "They're not going to hold me up" so I move sideways to give them clear passage. The riders usually acknowledge this action with a wave - the whole hand, not just one or two fingers - and it makes me feel good.
Alan Wood, England

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02 Oct 01 | Health
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