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The 10 routine changes that are proven to help you de-stress

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Overwhelmed by that mile-long to-do list? Before you decide to just rip it up and go down the pub, take a step back. We've rounded up some more productive ways to deal with your stress. Try a few now and you'll be feeling relaxed in no time.

Leave work on time

With competitive colleagues and demanding workloads, it can be tempting to eat dinner at your desk every night. But forcing yourself to leave the office and relax can do wonders for your stress level. Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, suggests marking off two days a week when you clock out right at 5pm and go do something you enjoy. "We all need to take some time for socialising, relaxation or exercise," he says. "By earmarking those two days, it means you won’t be tempted to work overtime on those days."

Turn up the music

There's a reason hearing your favourite song always seems to boost your mood: Music has been scientifically proven to help beat stress. In a 2006 study, researchers at Stanford University found that 'listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.' Soothing sounds work best for relaxation, so why not cue up some Adele for a soak in the tub?

Ban negative thoughts

Try to resist the urge to go on a negative rant when you're feeling stressed. According to the the American Psychological Association, letting destructive thoughts creep into your mind can be more harmful than you might think. So when you start thinking, 'I can't do this' or 'I'm not smart enough,' make a conscious effort to switch your focus to what you can do.

Have a laugh

Next time you're drowning in a sea of unfinished projects, slot in a 30-minute break to catch a rerun of How I Met Your Mother. Or if you really can't spare half an hour, just spend two minutes browsing someecards.com. Why? Because it turns out laughter actually is the best medicine. (Or at least a very good medicine.) According to the Mayo Clinic, having a giggle can induce positive physical changes in your body, soothe tension and leave you feeling more relaxed.

Play with your pet

Our furry friends do more than just look cute and wee on the carpet. They can actually help reduce stress levels. Animal expert Arden Moore says that stroking your pet can help lower your heart rate, and a 2001 study at State University of New York at Buffalo showed that pet owners had lower blood pressure responses to mental stress. Don't have a pet? Sign up for Borrowmydoggy.com to get a weekend of stress-relieving playtime with someone else's pup. (Surfing the web for funny cat videos may also work… see no. 4.)

Go for a run

Exercise is one of the most popular forms of stress relief for a good reason: it works. In fact, it's so effective that there's been loads of research into why it works. According to Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen, Ph.D., a kinesiologist at the Yale Stress Center, exercise can actually reverse damage to the brain caused by stress. Plus, breaking a sweat releases feel-good endorphins - and regular exercise keeps you looking great and fitting into your clothes. At least that's one less thing to stress about.

Adjust your to-do list

If it's work stress that's getting you down, spend some time working on your to-do list. Where possible, break up the bigger projects into smaller chunks and then prioritise the tasks on your list. According to the American Psychological Association, says getting organised can help you focus and make your overall workload seem more manageable. And who doesn't love the feeling of crossing something off?

Cry your eyes out

When it all gets to be too much, go ahead and let the tears fall. A study by Dr William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the St Paul-Ramsey Medical Centre in Minnesota, found that having a good cry helps wash stress-related chemicals out of your body. Need a little help turning on the waterworks? We heard The Notebook is kind of emotional…

Chew a piece of gum

If you know you're heading into a stressful situation (like a weekend at your in-laws), you may want to stock up on a few packs of Extra. A 2008 study by Dr. Andrew Scholey, professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at Swinburne University in Melbourne, found that chewing gum can help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress. Plus, chewing gum can keep you from snacking in between meals and overeating, which is often a negative side effect of stress.

Have Sex

It's a bit of a Catch 22: stress can diminish your sex drive, but sex can reduce your stress levels. But if you can put your worries aside and focus on getting busy, you stand to benefit big-time. Sex has been viewed as a known form of stress relief in humans, but a recent study by Emory University proved the point by using apes as their randy subjects. "It seems that the sexual physiology of bonobos is closely related to their stress alleviation," said researcher Zanna Clay. "This may be have to do with the rubbing of sexual organs causing reductions in cortisol levels in the blood or causing increases in ‘bonding’ hormones such as oxytocin or vasopressin."

(Words: Allison Gray, Images: Rex Features)

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