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Beat Stress Before It Beats You

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David Moyes was the victim of a very modern malaise. No, not the Glazers. From insomnia aids to philosophy, we offer a practical 10-point programme to coping with stress

How are you? Stressed? Of course you are, we all are.

It’s the ultimate daily disease, one that afflicts us all – whether you’re an IT consultant wrestling with a printer’s ink cartridge, the leader of the free world orchestrating the assassination of a despot, or a recently ousted Premier League manager told he’ll only receive a paltry £5m pay-off.

Although as males we’re hard-wired not to admit it when we can’t cope, and would probably drown in an ocean of anxiety before confessing we’re out of our depth, stress is a genuine threat to your health – it can ruin lives and even kill. For men in particular, stress makes us absolutely insufferable to be around, too.

A recent University Of Vienna study showed that women become less self-centred, more empathetic and in control of their emotions when under pressure, while the opposite is true of males. Well, at least it explains why half the Manchester United team reportedly despised David Moyes by the end. Don’t let it happen to you. Heed our 10-point plan and keep those worry lines at bay.

1. Don’t Go Into Bunker Mode

In the struggle of man vs workload, it’s all too easy to eject yourself from the office chitchat, tea runs and even toilet breaks. But when a deadline looms and you can almost taste the anxiety in your cold espresso, retiring from public life and into your headphones isn’t necessarily the best idea.

In fact, aside from becoming a frenzied mess of panic and caffeine, a University Of Pittsburgh study showed that fleeing to your cerebral safe haven in this manner heightens anxiety, which can lead to a raft of stress-related illnesses and even heart disease.

Instead, rather than subject your colleagues to a wall of silence when you’re up against it, consider setting your alarm a couple of hours early. Entrepreneur Josephine Fairley claims that “an hour before 9.30am is worth around two after that”, due to the chorus of phone calls, emails and meetings that abound once the working day begins. Creep into the office and commit to some unadulterated graft while your workmates snooze – it might just be the distraction-free, anti-social paradise you crave.

2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep (via the App Store)

A somewhat frightening 30 per cent of adults suffer from insomnia, according to the Mental Health Foundation, daily stresses swirling around their heads like a nightmarish Match Of The Day highlights package. Experts, as they do, recommend seven to eight hours of sleep a night, a regular bedtime and that you detach yourself from gadgets an hour beforehand.

But it’s possible to use the force of your iPhone to help you get to sleep. Pzizz (£2.99; iOS) is a sleeping tool that plays one of 100 billion soundtracks each time you hit start. Combining music, sound effects and soothing words for anything from 10 minutes to 10 hours, the app is proven to reduce stress and ease even the most acute insomniacs into slumber.

SleepCycle (£0.69; iOS) may not kiss you on the head and tuck you in, but the hyper-intelligent alarm clock does just about everything else come bedtime, spewing out detailed graphs and data by monitoring your sleeping patterns, waking you up during your lightest sleep phase and noting how food affects your sleep.

Yet if, on the other hand, your biggest bedtime stress comes from chronic oversleeping – the snooze button your greatest ally but also your nemesis – you could always buy yourself Clocky (£40; suck.uk.com). The alarm clock on wheels will scoot away and generally make a racket until you muster the strength to get up and turn it off. Which is good. Sort of.

3. Do One Thing Well, Not 18 Things Badly

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease,” proffered kung-fu star-cum-philosopher Bruce Lee. “Hack away at the unessential.” Sounds great, but then the Hong Kong action hero kicked people in the face for a living. Nowadays, the average worker is distracted seven times an hour, which equates to more than two hours lost every day on account of distractions.

Punching out an email and holding an important phone call while also doing squats at your desk and trying to nibble at a sandwich may appear productive (and odd), but sticking to one job, or ‘mono-tasking’, is more efficient than juggling several tasks. According to OnlineCollege.org, only two per cent of us can multi-task effectively, and the chirping of phones, computers and co-workers can actually reduce your IQ by up to 10 points – the equivalent of losing a night’s sleep and twice the effect of smoking cannabis.

4. Skip Game of Thrones and Go For a Beer

Yes, it sounds scary, but your Sky+ box will still be there when you get home (though we can’t vouch for the burglars in your area). As the daily strain of modern life depletes our energy, squashes our willpower and darkens the circles beneath our eyes, running through the front door and lounging on the couch often seems like the best idea ever. But don’t forget there’s a real world outside of Westeros and the Sterling Cooper & Partners office, one with weather and pubs and friends – remember them?

“Bromance is important,” says Harvard psychologist Dr Jeff Brown. “It allows us to access emotion, communication and feel the connection of that relationship. An important component for de-stressing is to have that valuable friend to get support from, so you have a place to get rid of emotion and to talk about frustrations. Also, we learn to problem-solve and about the different stresses that others experience, which is a huge benefit of a social connection.”

5. Sweat Your Way To Success

Who smiles more – you or Usain Bolt? Overlook the fact the sprinter is a millionaire, has six Olympic gold medals and can outrun most land mammals, and it could be because he does a bit of exercise. “When we’re physically active we’re oxygenating our brain, which helps us to build neurons and allows us to be more effective,” says Dr Brown. “It can help with things such as memory consolidation, so carving out that time to go to the gym is helpful for your brain and for de-stressing.”

Some doctors now hand out gym memberships as a prescription for stress’s more severe, medical cousin, depression. According to a Fitness First survey, 74 per cent of men find a workout has a positive impact on their mood and, unless you like to chair conference calls from aboard a cross-trainer, gyms offer rare sanctuary from the technological torture that a blinking, juddering smartphone can bring.

6. De-stress With Sushi

For many men, even a few short hours without a meal would see a bacon-stacked cheeseburger deemed more desirable than a luxury watch, speedboat or date with a supermodel. But before you scoff that supermarket meal deal at your desk while working through lunch, be aware that not only do you deserve better, much better, but also that there’s a multitude of meals that can cure stress.

Big slabs of lean beef, as well as being delicious, contain iron, zinc and B vitamins which can naturally relax you, whereas sushi is packed full of anxiety-relieving magnesium, along with vitamin B2 and pantothenic acid – keeping your adrenal gland (vital to stress management) healthy.

Vegetarian? Then almonds contain magnesium, broccoli boasts B vitamins and wholegrain rice or pasta boost serotonin, which helps improve your mood.

7. Don’t Forget To Breathe…

We appreciate that respiration is not so much a choice as it is a requirement, but if you’re someone who battles with stress – which accounts for 40 per cent of workplace illnesses, according to a Labour Force Survey – you can use breathing techniques as a weapon to win the war. Predictably, there’s an app for that.

Breathe2Relax (free; iOS/Android) bills itself as a portable stress management tool and uses a technique called diaphragmatic breathing – proven to reduce the effects of the body’s inbuilt fight-or-flight response.

So, when the pressure of your Premier League-winning side limping to another 2-0 loss gets to you (FAO David Moyes or Football Manager players) or simply that you’ve slagged off your boss in an email and accidentally cc’d him in (this also applies to Moyes, knowing his luck), then this might come in handy.

8. Unplug From The Matrix

While gadgets – whether smartphone, tablet or even an old-fashioned computer – have opened the door to untold riches of information, they’ve also left the light on in the office without telling you. We may only get paid from 9-5, but we’re now on hand after hours, and we didn’t even realise.

“Sometimes you go into a job and part of the deal is you’re on call 24/7, but most don’t,” says Dr Brown. “Having to respond to work calls, texts or emails outside of working hours means you never switch off, leading to high levels of stress.” Consider your annual salary when factoring in your 24-hour working day – you just might be tempted to banish the BlackBerry and dig out that trusty Nokia 3210 from the bottom of your wardrobe.

9. Manage Your Virtual ‘Addictions’

Despite being the nightly pursuit of many an unwinding bachelor, gaming and/or ‘alone time’ with yourself isn’t the stress-buster you might think it is. Crazy, considering how rewarding it feels to annihilate an old school friend on Call Of Duty, but it can actually serve to top up your nervous tension.

“Our brains like to have closure, but video games don’t,” says Dr Brown. “So what do we do? We stay hooked. It’s like watching a TV show, we have to tune in next week to find out what happens. Video games are set up the same way, and it can be quite addictive. Internet porn is the same, and is a very bad place to go for de-stressing. It compromises relationships and healthy boundaries, it becomes very addictive and, for some people, very expensive.”

10. Keep a Philosopher in Your Pocket

Sometimes, all you need to take the edge off your anxiety is the knowledge that it’s not actually worth getting stressed about in the first place. Well, that, and also Gifs of people falling over – works every single time.

But as topical reminders not to get stressed go, soaking up quotes from famous philosophers about how not to get stressed isn’t a bad place to start. Well, if it’s good enough for David Brent, it’s good enough for you, right?

Anti-Stress Quotes (free; iOS/Android) is a pocket-sized pick-me-up for when you’re feeling the strain, or simply want to sound smart/a bit like Brent at post-work drinks on a Friday. After all “a man who suffers or stresses before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary”. So said ShortList (OK, it was Seneca).

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time,” offered Leonard Bernstein.

And who can forget Brent’s favourite, by ‘philosopher’ Dolly Parton? “If you want the rainbow, you’ve gotta put up with the rain.” Feel better now? Lovely.

(Images: Getty/Action/Thinkstock)

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