Stress is the same thing as anxiety or fear – it’s a threat that signals fight or flight. Our survival system, built in from time immemorial, kicks in: a biological function that has helped us to survive from a time when we were cave people and there were dangers lurking all around in the form of dangerous animals, unexpected hazards in the forest or other threats against our lives and health.

We can all certainly relate to everyday situations where this system kicks in without us even thinking about it. In a fraction of a second, we can go from peace and harmony to palpitations and a churning stomach. For example, imagine yourself driving your car through the town, with nice music on the radio, at the end of the working day. Life is simply great, but then suddenly a child jumps out in front of your car, and you have to slam on the brakes. You don’t have time to react before the sweat pours off you and your heart beats like a jungle drum in your chest, your pulse goes through the roof, and you find the whole of your body is shaking. Maybe you even react by getting angry, jumping out of the car shouting, ‘for goodness’ sake, child, be careful!’. It is a completely natural reaction – our biological alarm system.

This survival system is not always positive – it can create problems for us in situations where there is actually no direct danger or threat against our life but somewhere along the way, without even knowing why, we’ve learned that certain things are dangerous. Examples are speaking in public, which is a common occurrence, being in a social context with lots of new people, going to the gym and exercising, etc. You get a surge in stress levels, which for some people can create such stark fears that they avoid doing things or exposing themselves to situations where they expect to have a reaction.

One of the greatest health threats of our times is precisely stress. More and more people succumb to illnesses related to stress, and current research shows that there is a connection between long-term negative stress and cardiovascular diseases. We perform and deliver at an increasingly high level and make excessive demands on our mind and body while far too little allowance is made for recovery. It’s actually not the stress level that is harmful – it’s the lack of recovery in between bouts of stress that creates problems in the long run. We basically put our foot down on the accelerator and don’t even slow down at any of the red lights that we meet along the way. In the end, we crash into the proverbial wall, and then the way back can take quite a long time.

Stress signals that you should take seriously

✅ You are easily irritated and get wound up about small things that you would normally not react to.

✅ You have difficulty tolerating loud noise, light and other sensory impressions.

✅ You have difficulty sleeping and find yourself lying there at night, tossing and turning. It’s common to fall asleep quickly but then wake up and be unable to sleep again.

✅ Stomach ache, heartburn, gastritis, constipation or diarrhoea.

✅ Headache, muscular pain because you unconsciously tense up. Stiff neck or lower back pain without being able to relate it to having done anything in particular.

✅ You feel depressed and gloomy, possibly even dejected, as though nothing has a point.

✅ Crying fits or anger that makes people around you wonder what’s the matter with you.

✅ You become forgetful and don’t remember to do things, miss meetings or dental or hair appointments.

✅ You have difficulty staying focused on what you’re doing, your mind wanders, and it becomes more difficult for you to get things done.

✅ Your brain fixates on one thing. You could call it tunnel vision or that you’re suddenly blinkered. You only see what is directly in front of you, which means that your ability to problem-solve is reduced.

✅ Anxiety

✅ Several bodily reactions such as high blood pressure, increased pulse rate, or a weakened immune system, meaning that you are often ill and succumb to colds and viruses.

We are never going to get away from a certain amount of stress. And we also need it to be able to perform to the best of our ability, to develop as people and to motivate us to carry out certain tasks. It’s all about balance, a word that often comes up when looking at health and fitness, meaning a balance between activity and rest.


  • Plan both physical activity and REST every day.
  • Have space on your calendar for EMPTY time that means you can do what you feel like doing on the spur of the moment.
  • Alternate between work and rest by taking small micro-breaks or power naps. Close the door to your office or shut yourself in the bathroom or bedroom if you are at home. Put the alarm on your mobile or a clock for 5–15 minutes, close your eyes and allow yourself to let go of everything around you. You may think it’s really unpleasant and become restless and stressed. Hang in there and practise. Or else you fall asleep right away and then wake up groggy when the alarm sounds, but whatever happens – this gives your body the opportunity to wind down.

There’s a saying that ‘It’s not about how you feel – it’s how you cope with it’, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Our approach to what happens around us is what drives things, not the actual stresses themselves, and that is the point of increasing your knowledge about how thoughts affect feelings. Let me give you an example:


Your boss walks by you in the corridor, nods a greeting and does not stop and chat the way they normally do.

1. You think – ‘they’re angry with me’.
Consequence: You spend the entire day worrying about what it can be about, double-checking all your jobs to see that you haven’t missed anything.

2. You think – ‘they’re really busy with end-of-year accounting at the moment’.
Consequence: You let go of it completely and get on with your day.

3. You think – ‘they’re not in a good place – there’s something wrong’.
Consequence: You become concerned for the person in question and follow things up by asking how they are feeling.

Three ways of dealing with the same situation, with completely different consequences for your health. Going off and worrying about something for an entire day creates stress and anxiety, so be aware of how you allow your thoughts to get carried away in different directions, creating a problem for you, in most cases totally unnecessarily. Catastrophe is seldom as close as we think.


  • Write down your thoughts and feelings to be able to mull over them afterwards.

In any event, I would say that the main culprit when it comes to stress is the inability to say NO – to take on too much and not see the difference between what constitutes your own self-worth and the person who always performs and achieves at work. We ARE NOT our achievements, and we are perfectly good enough even if we don’t do everything at the same time, or have perfect homes, children and bodies. How many people are there who say to friends and acquaintances when they are asked how they are: ‘Well, I’m up to my eyes – haven’t got a spare minute, actually. If only there were more hours in the day.’ That is NOT a positive thing. I’m delighted when my friends say that they had a lovely weekend without a single planned activity.

I’ve put together a list of my best ‘take – control – of – stress’ tips. Try to select a few and focus on them the following week:

Practical tips for taking control of your stress

✅ Make it a priority to sleep well, eat regularly and take physical exercise. That is key for getting into a good position to manage the challenges of everyday life.

✅ A lot of hugs – close physical contact releases the body’s ‘peace and quiet hormones’ that allow the body to wind down more easily.

✅ Have a regular sex life – orgasms reduce tensions in the body and also help us to relax and let go of frustrations and feelings that are bottled up.

✅ Say NO. Practise saying that word every day in different contexts. The more often you say it, the easier it will get. Create what Bodil Jönsson coined as ‘set-up time’ in her book ‘Tio tankar om tid’ (which has been translated as ‘Ten Thoughts About Time’) that means you have the time to think, feel your feelings and reflect before you say yes out of habit.

✅ Stop making excuses! Just say YES or NO. You don’t need to give your life history as to why you’re saying NO to a task at work or a night out with friends.

✅ Make lists of priorities where only the essential things are included. Lists are all well and good, but they can also easily become flight behaviour and produce stress.

✅ Practise NOT doing everything on the list – ‘not doing’ also deserves credit.

✅ Reward yourself in the form of rest, massage, a walk, reading a good book, listening to your favourite music for half an hour, etc. when you’ve completed a task. Stop rewarding yourself with food, sweets and edible things. Give yourself kindness and loving care instead.

✅ Compare the demands you make on yourself with those you make on others. Find a balance between ‘in and out’.

✅ Delegate more! You are not indispensable, and neither your home nor your job is going to go under because some of the things you usually do are done by someone else.

✅ Practise taking risks. This means saying no or doing things you don’t normally do so as to get an idea of ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’, which nine times out of ten isn’t half as bad as you fear. You’re not going to get fired from your job if you prioritise an event at your children’s school when you’ve actually got a meeting with the management group. You’re not going to faint and fall to the floor if you say yes to giving a lecture. Debunk the myths of all the catastrophe scenarios your imagination unleashes.

✅ Schedule time for fun. Yes, you heard right. Having time for fun things in your leisure time, seeing your friends and simply enjoying yourself are more important than you think. So, make sure they happen.

✅ Take care of your relationships. We need friends and family, and anyone on earth may get fed up with a person who never has any time and is always on the go and busy with something.

✅ Keep a stress diary where you write down how the day has been, what situations you notice stress you out, what produces bodily reactions, or thoughts that set you off.

✅ Dare to stay with your uncomfortable feelings. One form of inner exposure is to localise where in your body you feel those feelings, describe how they feel and become aware of how you feel in different situations. This is a good way of identifying the causes of frustration and anger, which may often be disguised disappointment or stress.

✅ Come to terms with things you feel bad about. You can’t please everyone, and – above all – you need to take care of YOURSELF to have what it takes to be there for other people. Refuse to give in to people who play on your feelings and take advantage of you in different ways. Real friends will still be there even if you’re not available to meet their needs 24/7.

✅ Sign an anti-stress agreement with yourself, focusing on what makes YOU feel good. Make sure you do something from it AT LEAST once a day.

‘Don’t stress, do your best and forget the rest’