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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Stress relief: One week on
Stressed?
Our "stress-busting" volunteers are one week into their respective relaxation methods. Who is still wound up, and who is starting to feel stress ease its hold on their life?

To find out which method of beating this modern malady is best, we've recruited five guinea pigs from among our readers. Over the next few weeks, our volunteers will chart their progress on these pages.

TAI CHI

Nikolai Kulow, 29, from Edinburgh, runs his own software company. He is taking Tai Chi classes.

Nikolai
"I've had one insomniac night since taking up Tai Chi - that's one out of seven, my usual hit rate. It may be too early for results, but I feel quite serene after a session of 'chi' management.

"My instructor has shown me a contorted position which induces sleep. It involves doing the splits upside down with my chin on my stomach or something... Apart from that, the only difficulty is remembering the moves. I tried at home but could only remember two, so wound up just stretching.

"If this is going to help reduce the stress in my life, I'll need to do it long-term. The problem is that like a lot of other disciplines, it's packaged as a lifestyle. I'm not sure I'm ready to give up my poor diet and lack of exercise.

"But it's quite fun and easy to do. I just have to remember to stop rushing it and be slow and deliberate."

MENTAL EXERCISES

Hope Liebersohn, 58, of Islington in London, is a lawyer. She is trying mind exercises to relax.

Hope
"I find deep breathing and clearing the mind are helpful - but when I have to shift my awareness to my belly to 'centre myself', my digestive condition overrides any sense of wellbeing. If I have wind, pain or a cramp, I tense up again. But if I have no symptoms, I feel relaxed.

"Similarly, trying to calm my mind and my body does not seem to help if there's pain in my midsection.

"The exercise I enjoy most is to notice something beautiful at the start of each day. This is not something one does in London, normally, and that has given me a lot of pleasure.

"I look at a factory and imagine it as an abstract painting, or follow a bird in flight to see what it is doing, or just visualise a beautiful, perfumed flower. This is most successful for me."

EXTRA SLEEP

Lucy Odling-Smee, 28, from London, works on a major science journal. She is going to bed an hour earlier than usually every night.

Lucy
"I have to admit that I haven't been deadly strict about going to bed absolutely on time. But I've made an effort to get there earlier, and it has made quite a difference to the way the days look.

"More sleep at night is definitely making me feel brighter in the mornings. I'm functioning better at work and seem to have more energy in the evenings.

"But best of all I'm finding time to read, which slows my brain down and takes me away from all the stress of life and into quite another world."

AEROBIC EXERCISE

Dan Broome, 21, is a law student from Birmingham. He goes for a 30-minute run, four times a week.

Dan
"I've done three runs so far and have thoroughly enjoyed the workout. I've found a route that I enjoy - important if I'm going to successfully battle stress this way.

"So far it's helped; I've been getting up early to do it, and whilst jogging, will plan the day ahead in detail. This enables me to be far more productive, which has cut my stress levels.

"And having the idea of running for stress relief has the added benefit of working off stress as I attempt to better my previous time. This is a real vent for the stored-up anxiety of my forthcoming exams.

"Over the next few weeks I have various dissertation deadlines, so aim to use the runs to get complicated legal arguments straight in my head - which will hopefully lessen the stress generated by this work."

HERBAL REMEDIES

Chris Hurst, 35, from Dartford, is a project manager for a leading European bank. He's gone holistic with herbal remedies, including lavender baths.

Chris
"I trawled the net for info and found literally thousands of sites and products. Most don't explain the possible benefits or side effects. And if my search is anything to go by, the stress-sufferers catered for either have menstrual problems or no libido.

"My next port of call was a High Street store. They, too, were short on specific information. So I took note of what was available and went back to my computer for some research.

"I've settled on ginkgo biloba, which seems to have the most 'proven' properties - including memory boosting - and no side effects. I've been taking one 60mg tablet a day but have yet to notice the effects, good or bad. The label suggests one or two tablets a day, so I'll up the dosage this week.

"I haven't had time for lavender baths, so have opted for lavender shower gel instead. It's quite nice, and does leave me relaxed."


Got any tips for our volunteers? Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Chris, try seeing a herbalist, who can make sure you're taking the right thing. Mine made a drink of skullcap and vervaine. It's really helpful, but you need to take the right thing for your condition. In the past passiflora has helped, as well.
Lesley Harris, UK

For herbal remedies, try Kava Kava.
Carl

Having been stressed through work for six months, six weeks ago I decided to give up alcohol (I was drinking too much), eat healthier (I saw a nutritionist), and to run at lunch. The change has been spectacular, I feel like my old self.
GF, UK

Hope, if you have a pain in your stomach, centre somewhere else and breathe low down rather than in your chest.
Peter Longlands, England

Nikolai hit the nail on the head when he said "I'm not sure I'm ready to give up my poor diet and lack of exercise". Stress can affect your whole life and so the solution will often affect your whole life. There are no quick fixes and we have to look at our lifestyle, sleeping patterns, diet and mental attitude if we're intending to reduce stress levels.
Louise, UK

I hope you give the Tai Chi classes time to work - a couple of months at least. Don't worry about not remembering the moves: you're supposed to relax, not fret. And don't worry about the diet & exercise, you'll find your habits changing gradually and painlessly.
Joan, UK

Hope, stress may be a cause of the pain in your midsection. The stomach is the centre of your emotions and "bathing it in a ball of golden healing light" or similar, is intended to relax this. PMT, IBS and other painful symptoms often respond to the mental approach - I speak from experience.
Sylvia, England

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