Career Advice Executive Essentials

Breathe in, breathe out

Self-help de-stressing methods that fit seamlessly into a busy leader's life can be the most effective, says Dr Rhoda Yuen, programme director at Aging & Better Care (ABC).

"Such techniques are very easy to use and can be used anywhere at any time," she explains. "For example, with 'mindfulness' exercises, you just turn inwards and focus on your breathing and you are doing it already."

Mindfulness is an awareness of one's thoughts and body in any given moment. "One key way I help people achieve mindfulness is by getting them to focus on their breathing, on every in and out breath," Yuen says. "The way to deal with all the thoughts that begin to intrude on this process is to be aware of them and then just let them go. This then anchors the attention on the breathing so that the person becomes relaxed without any effort."

Yuen explains that she also teaches some basic psychological approaches such as guided imagery, a type of self-hypnosis. "I guide participants in picturing a scenario in which they are very relaxed, and maybe get them to recall some of the details of their own lived experience of this state. By doing that they re-experience the sensations of relaxation and are able to re-adjust their physiological responses in the present and make themselves calmer."

Another method Yuen teaches involves eye-movement exercises. "Recent neuroscience studies have found a link between a particular part of the brain and the experiencing of positive emotions," she says. "These eye-movement exercises activate this part of their brain and can be completed in five or 10 minutes."

The colourfully named "brain dance", another method of using the body to refresh the mind, consists of a set of eight movements that can be practised standing up or sitting down. Meanwhile, the "heart-coherence method" links two of the body's most vital organs.

"The heart-coherence method takes some time for people to experience and learn," Yuen says. "This is a very new and very effective technique based on a number of studies that have established the connection between the brain and the heart. There are some simple exercises we can practise while we are talking or working that optimise our heart rhythm and bring it to a more healthy and regulated state.