Ella Morris, 72, from Glenrothes, had known for years she had a lump in her breast, but after watching her father die in pain was scared to seek medical attention.

She was only persuaded to see an oncologist after being admitted to hospital with heart failure. Investigations revealed the cancer had spread to her liver and lungs.

Reeling from the news, Ella signed up for a stress management course at Maggie's Fife, to learn techniques such as meditation and mindfulness.

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"It changed everything for me," says Ella. "Having to deal with cancer and decisions about treatments was making me so very anxious, but taking part in the stress management course has helped me to take a step forward, to cope with decisions better and to adopt a much more positive attitude.

"I was half way through the course when it was suggested I have a course of chemotherapy, and being in the stress management group helped me make that decision. In the stress management group all of us shared our problems and shed the odd tear."

Tomorrow is Stress Down Friday, supported by Maggie's Centres, which aims to help reduce stress levels in the workplace. It comes as The Priory Group releases the results of a new survey, which found more than half of people think their work is having an adverse effect on their mental wellbeing.

Maggie's chief executive Laura Lee says: "At Maggie's we give expert support and stress management workshops to provide the skills to cope with the enormity of cancer.

Stress, however, is something we recognise as an issue facing a lot of people, an issue that can really affected health and wellbeing."

So how can we all reduce our stress levels? Dr Elspeth Salter, clinical psychologist and head of Maggie's Centre Fife, says the workshops teach techniques helpful for dealing with the stresses of daily life. They help participants think about breathing, muscle tension and the role of the mind in stress: "Sometimes we can be very critical of ourselves, or create difficult pictures in our heads of ourselves as not being able to manage difficult situations." Positive visualisations can counter this.

Advising someone to "take a deep breath" might make matters worse. Tension can cause "over-breathing", when levels of oxygen in the blood stream get out of balance. Relaxing the shoulders and releasing a long out-breath can help redress the balance.

"That old-fashioned phrase 'a sigh of relief' tells you something," says Dr Salter. "The brain is monitoring what's happening in the body and looking for indications that it needs to react to danger, such as muscle tension and rapid and shallow breathing. If the brain registers a nice steady sigh of relief – the shoulders drop, the chest opens – it sees you as able to cope."

Another aim of the course is to help people give themselves permission to cry. "Tears are full of the stress hormone cortisol, which impacts on our ability to remember, organise and prioritise things, so it is good for us to cry," says Salter. Crying often leaves us ready to sleep because of the loss of all that cortisol.

"It's almost like we have an inner thermometer and it gets hotter and hotter," concludes Dr Salter. "The breathing and the tears are about reducing the temperature down to a manageable level."