1. the Painful Commute
Is your journey to work a stressful nightmare? Make it into a brain-boosting power hour by relaxing. ‘We don’t get enough down time – in fact, one in six phones contains faecal matter because people even check emails in the toilet,’ says Neil Shah, director of the Stress Management Society (stress.org.uk). ‘So try to see your commute as a window for constructive down time so you arrive at work mentally fresh, not frazzled.’ Listen to an audio book (your first one is free at audible.co.uk) or try sitting quietly and thinking about the last time you laughed out loud – a simple mental exercise that’s been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
2. The email blizzard
Tame your inbox with strategic checking and filtering, says Grace Marshall, author of 21 Ways To Manage The Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time. ‘The postman doesn’t deliver every letter individually by knocking on your door every five minutes,’ says Marshall. ‘Deal with emails when you choose – perhaps three times a day, or for five minutes every hour. And filter them into folders: important, spam and “bacon” – things that might be useful but don’t require immediate attention.’
3. The big presentation
The only way to overcome the terror of big presentations is to master the craft. Professor Cary Cooper and Dr Howard Kahn, authors of 50 Things You Can Do Today To Manage Stress At Work, suggest some tips: speak at a pace that allows your audience to take in what you’re saying, make sure you are conﬁdent about the topic, and maintain eye contact – to someone in the audience, a good speaker appears to be looking at them directly.
4. The restricted social life
Long office hours can cause social plans to plummet down your priority list. ‘Don’t think of social, family or leisure time as a luxury,’ says Marshall. ‘Schedule in your recharge time weekly like you schedule other appointments. This relaxation time will also fuel your productivity when you get back to the office.’
5. The squeezed gym session
Shrinking lunch hours can mean you’ve less time to work out, leaving you frustrated. But doing a time-based circuit instead of having reps-and-sets targets can actually lower your stress levels. Trainer Ben Camara (no1fitness.co.uk) recommends a circuit of step-ups (45sec each leg), bent-over dumbbell rows (45sec each arm), prone flyes (1min), dumbbell clean and presses (1min), rowing (1min) and reverse crunches (1min) for up to 30 minutes. ‘It hits your whole body and releases calming endorphins,’ he says.
6. The endless work deadlines
When deadlines swamp you, neutralise stress by doing absolutely nothing for 30 minutes. ‘Stress makes you unproductive,’ says Graham Allcott, author of How To Be A Productivity Ninja. The reason? When you’re under stress, the frontal lobe of your brain responsible for planning is starved of oxygen. ‘Schedule a “meeting for one” and use it to focus on thinking, write a to-do list and regain control,’ says Allcott. ‘You can be overloaded without being overwhelmed.’
7. The domestic argument
Smart guys use neuroscience to prevent arguments before they happen. ‘Australian research shows men and women react very differently to stress,’ says Shah. ‘Men adopt a fight-or-flight or problem-solving focus, whereas women adopt a tend-and-befriend, emotional focus.’ Harness this knowledge to dodge bust-ups: if she suddenly gets moody or distant, ask what’s wrong. Making time to sit down and listen to her initially will help resolve the issue before it escalates.
8. The money worries
To dodge money trouble you need to reassert a sense of control. Financial expert Alastair Norman (haggards.co.uk) recommends using budgeting apps – Account Tracker, MoneyWiz and Pocket Expense are good-value, user-friendly options. ‘They help you to track your spending habits and log payments and bills,’ says Norman. ‘People aren’t good at budgeting for one-off purchases such as holidays but the apps provide visual charts, which help you to set financial goals and remain in control.’
9. The dinnertime fatigue
Poor food choices in the day trigger stress responses and leave you too drained to cook a healthy dinner. Steady your moods by ensuring you pair protein with carbs. ‘Having carbs without protein sends blood sugar up fast which means it also falls fast,’ says nutritionist Petronella Ravenshear (chelseanutrition.com). ‘Around 4pm is a key adrenal time [when the adrenal glands release hormones in response to stress] when carb cravings tend to be strongest.’ So if you struggle then, almond butter with carrot sticks will stabilise your mood until evening.
10. The bad night’s sleep
Build a relaxation buffer before bed to defend your mind from sleep-wrecking worries. ‘People suffer from the Road Runner effect,’ says Shah. ‘Road Runner rushes around at breakneck speed so when he stops, his body keeps reverberating. Our brains are rushing around with work, travel, exercise and technology so when we go to bed our minds are still whizzing around.’ Introduce a pre-bed relaxation routine – turn off technology, listen to music or have a bath – to power down your brain.