Stress is both my friend and my enemy. On the one hand I sometimes need the adrenaline which stress brings in order to perform well, so there is more pressure. SOmehow stress makes it so that I get more done in less time. But sometimes stress also blocks me. There are times when I want nothing more than to get the stress-voice in my head to finally be quiet.


I find it difficult to be completely zen. I tend to worry about important and less important things and assume works case scenarios at times instead of thinking of a story with a happy ending. 'That way there are no unpleasant surprises', my philosophy is at such a time. But that way of thinking makes it so that my stress levels go through the roof sometimes. This has been the case for me during the past few weeks either way since I recently heard that my father has to undergo surgery during this summer. A heart surgery. An open heart surgery, to be exact. News which I had not expected at all and which immediately raised my stress level. The anti stress techniques will be useful for the coming few weeks, that is if they work for a stressed person such as myself.


But what is stress really? 'Stress is a reaction of which we have to pressure, danger, or problems', stress expert Paul Koeck says. 'We are made so easily survive, but once we end up in an unexpected situation - such as when a tiger is ready to devour you - stress makes it so that we handle such a situation faster. In that sense stress is very positive, but an overdose makes it so that our body cannot keep up. That more and more people are stressed can partially be blamed on the technological evolution. Now that we always work with our computers and phones, we constantly use the same brain cells, giving them no time to recover. If you then also are the type of person who worries sometimes, you use he same cells again, meaning they work for sixteen hours or longer for some people. That is dangerous because brain cells can become inflamed just like muscles. But muscles hurt when they are used too much and that is not the case with our brain. The brain namely has no pain receptors and because there is no alarm signal, we usually are not warned before it is too late.’


I love Mother Nature. When I dove into the forest to test this eastern anti-stress method - which is also known as Shinrin-Yoku - for four hours, I was really happy. The idea: calmly walk through a forest-rich area and admire the beauty of nature. My cup of tea. For this technique I go to a forest where I have never been before in my life. I walk around and find a place to relax. After having walked for about ten minutes, I find an enormous tree. I have found my space. However, there are countless mosquitoes in the forest - which love the heavy rain - and they do not agree with me. I have hardly been there for two minutes and already I am attacked from every side. To make matters worse I did not bring any mosquito spray. D’oh!

Die! Mosquitoes!

Stay calm, Marijke. You are here to calm down. To divert my thoughts, I remove my headphones and look around. I see how the wint rhythmically blows through the tree leaves. A small zen moment, but I do not last longer than five songs. The mosquitoes which I can also feel in my face now are way too much. After a few minutes of walking I find a different spot, but that does not help. The same scenario. Mosquitoes everywhere! It seems as if those creatures can smell my blood from miles away. After about three hours in the forest I return home with about twenty mosquito bites. Because of the terrible weather of the past few weeks and the mosquito attacks I did not test this technique in ideal circumstances. However, I am someone who regularly spends time in nature and know like no other how much such an environment can calm you down. The effect, unfortunately, does not last long.


‘A few years ago a hotel chain asked me whether some time at a hotel in a nature rich environment reduces stress' Paul Koeck says. 'As long as you are in the forest or nature rich area, it is one of the best anti stress tricks. But as soon as you return to the rhythm of our western society, the effect visibly reduces and you lose the zen feeling already after a few days.'


For this technique I needed to get my smart phone. Because of the digital evolution there are countless mobile applications available which claim that they reduce your stress level. There are so many that I sometimes get a little stressed having to choose. But I do not want to worry about something that stupid and randomly pick one. Pacifia is the chosen app which I will be testing over the coming few days. I must be honest and say that I am not too excited because I do not associate my smart phone with relaxation. You must also be connected to the internet or else you will not gain access to the application, but this makes it so that I can see my e-mails coming in constantly. Not a great start to relaxation, is what I then think.

Rain against the window

Pacifica is an app which provides tools to reduce stress and tension. Just what I need, especially now that my father's surgery is getting closer and more real. Because I use the free version of the app, there are only a few exercises for me to choose from. One of the exercises is the muscle relaxation, an audio activity which teaches the muscles to relax during a stressful moment. Before getting started, I can pick from some background noises which will help guide me during the exercise. I choose the sound of rain falling against the window. I close my eyes, this being recommended by the female instructing voice, and I lie down in a comfortable position. During the exercise I must tense and relax specific muscles. By doing this and being aware of this, my stress would reduce. Before I know it, the exercise is done. During a seven-day period I repeated the exercise several times, but it is no miracle cure for the worries that still keep filling my mind.


‘There are some applications which are very suitable for relaxing for a while, but most people do not relax because of this', Paul Koeck says. 'As a break or diversion such an application can be useful, but in the long run it will not reduce stress'.


It has been at least fifteen years since I last touched a coloring book. There is a good reason for this, because I am not artistically talented at all. If I see Lena - my 6-year old god-daughter - color an image of one of her Frozen heroes, I am sure that she is better at this than her 26-year-old godmother. But anyway: I am mainly interested to know whether mindful coloring is the method to reduce my stress level.

Armed with 24 colored pencils

For this technique I bought the book Mindful coloring for adults. A coloring book with 32 detailed images. Detailed is an understatement. I get somewhat nervous when I see how small the details are. When I want to get started, I realize I do not have any colored pencils. That is what happens when one is not artistic. I go to the store. Half an hour later I am armed with 24 colored pencils. Let's do this!

Ideal lightning rod in case of stress

As soon as I start coloring, I seem to enter a different world. I ams so focused on the drawing that I seem to forget everything for a moment. Incredible! Furthermore, the colors immediately make me happy. My head is mainly stress free. I find the technique to be so much fun that I cannot help but take my coloring book with me when going outside. My friends find it odd when I suddenly sit in front of them and start drawing, but I do not care. Me being relaxed is the most important thing, is it not? I find mindful coloring a great lightning rod in case of stress, but it is a short-term solution. As soon as I stop coloring, the effect goes away again.


‘Mindful coloring is a basic technique which works well in the short run', stress expect Paul Koeck says. 'It is a powerful method in a sudden stressful situation where everything gets too much and you must relax. But when you stop coloring and enter the same context again, you soon again experience the same feelings, thoughts, and stress.'


The last technique I tested was the 15 Minutes 4 Me method for seven days straight, which is an online self-help program which was developed by stress expert Paul Koeck. The program takes about fifteen minutes each day and was followed by more than 5000 people already. Doctor Koeck had warned me in advance that I should test the technique for three weeks, but I do not have that time. Interested in seeing whether the effect is noticeable in barely a week's time for me. After the first day of the program it is shown that I experience some tension and some anxiety. No shit, Sherlock. It would have been odd if I had not been worried at this time. I have some important deadlines on my planning and find it difficult to deal with the news about my father.

Less worrying

Every day I try to stick to my appointment. As a point to work on I chose to worry less, because I am convinced that this is good for my stress level. The information which the program gives me, makes me become more aware of my thoughts. After a few days I even notice that I have to go to the gym or do something which makes my worrying stop while I hade a panicky moment. This is amazing for someone as stressed as I am who tends to find it difficult to move out of a certain scenario. Interested to see whether 15 Minutes 4 Me could help you, too? Then take the free self-test on


‘People who want to follow the 15 Minutes 4 Me program choose one or two things they want to work on', stress expert Paul Koeck says. 'Less worrying, enjoying the little things in life more and reducing negative thoughts and feelings: anything is possible. Studies show that most people need about two or three weeks until they or their families notice changes. After 21 days, even more than half of the participants are already completely stress free, while some need some more time. The most important key to a stress-free life? Change habits and thoughts in the long run which you want to see changed.' With thanks to 'Marijke Clabots' and 'Flair' for their explicit agreement to share this article with you via our website and social media. Download the entire article (PDF): Completely zen? Tested: 4 remedies for stress