A recent social media discussion about stress at work made me realise I’ve developed an unusual set of mechanisms to combat desktop stress, without even realising what I was doing. I thought I’d share it here too, in case anyone else finds it helpful.
Four Simple Therapies on my Desk
Among the mass of stationery, ornaments and other bits and pieces on my desk, I keep within arm’s length of my keyboard four cheery and uplifting treats to self:
a zesty orange lip gloss, a free gift from the ACX stand at the London Book Fair in April
a citrussy miniature Yves Rocher eau de toilette spray bought on holiday in France at Easter
an uplifting verbena hand cream which I was given for my birthday
that perennial stressbuster in the idiosyncratic clicky tin, always fun to open – Bach’s Rescue Pastilles, in the newish orange and elderflower flavour
Each of these will give me a lift any time I’m feeling stressed. A quick slick of lip gloss is great if I’ve been anxiously chewing my lips in concentration. Massaging in the handcream is great therapy for aching fingers from constant typing. A spritz of perfume lifts my spirits, and the deep intake of breath it prompts must be good for me too. (It’s astonishing just how often we forget to breathe properly.) All three also remind me of happy occasions, so provide a moment’s diversion from the task in hand as I remember how I came by them. The pastilles are a last resort, but always help. Whether or not you think Bach’s Flower Remedies are a cranky placebo, I don’t care – they work for me.
It’s easy to tell when I’ve had a particularly stressful session at my desk, because I’m especiallly soft and fragrant.
Who knew? Not me. Well, actually, I think my subconscious must have known. And just like my mum, my subconscious always knows best. Although my mum would probably also tell me to get up from my desk and have a rest more often – which is exactly what I’m going to do when I’ve finished this post.
What are yourfavourite remedies for combating stress at your desk? I’d love to know!
Having achieved a miracle cure for fall-induced back pain at a yoga class in January, (something clicked back into place during a floor exercise), I turned to yoga techniques again this month to counter my fear during an emergency tooth extraction.
I lay in the dentist’s chair breathing deeply, body relaxed, palms facing upwards, while the very pleasant dental surgeon went about her task. With the added distraction of pictures of Minions and Gromits on the ceiling, (something our yoga class at the Methodist Hall doesn’t have), I got through the procedure unscathed. What with this and my back pain cured, I was feeling positively smug until I caught up with the international news.
That same day, an Australian man had used yoga to escape death by drowning. Trapped in a pool of mud by his overturned mechanical digger, he adopted the Cobra position to keep just his nose above the waterline until rescue arrived… six hours later. That put my triumphs into perspective.
But it just goes to show that whatever the source of stress in your daily life, yoga can help make it better. Though I’ll still be giving muddy pools and mechanical diggers a wide berth in future.
(A post in praise of my two late grandmothers and their different attitudes to matching china tea-sets, crockery and cutlery)
Now here’s a little-known antidote to stress: take a few moments to admire matching crockery, as displayed on the Welsh dresser in my kitchen.
There are many reasons why the sight of this dresser gives me great pleasure:
a folksy look that goes well with our country cottage
light and cheerful colours
vintage design from the 1920s (it often pops on tea-tables in period TV dramas)
sentimental value, the first pieces being a wedding present from a special friend
low cost, thanks to a factory shop that sold cheap seconds (sadly now closed)
ease of replacement via Chinasearch
But most important of all is that it reminds me of tea with my grandmothers, though their attitudes to china were polar opposites.
Grandma’s Matching China Tea-Service
My paternal Grandma favoured matching crockery. She had a classic set of pale sage green utility china which was brought out every Saturday when we went to tea.
For my brother, sister and me were reserved three melamine cups and saucers, long after the age when we couldn’t be trusted with breakables. My brother’s was chocolate brown, there was deep rose pink for my sister and tangerine for me.
Toning tastefully with the china, a stylish set of tiered plates sporting a 1950s fern pattern always graced the centre of the tea-table. The bottom tier was reserved for thinly sliced, fresh-cut bread and butter, with cakes and biscuits of gradually reducing size on the top two tiers. Viennese whirls, Swiss creams and chocolate covered marshmallows still make me think of tea at Grandma’s, served from those elegant plates, and eaten politely all sitting well-behaved around the table, me perched on a stool brought in especially from the kitchen because there were more people than chairs.
The orderliness of the tea-table was as dependable as the bananas offered to the three of us as a treat after tea. Unlike us, Grandma remembered rationing and regretted the prolonged absence of such fruit from her own children’s diet during the war. I didn’t always want one, but I knew instinctively to pretend that I did, and accepted with gratitude.
My siblings and I were born in the same order as her children – my father sandwiched between my two aunts – and it must sometimes have felt like an action replay to have the three of us there, particularly as my brother was the image of my father as a boy.
Equally reliable was her pressing a shilling (equivalent to the modern 5p) into our hands as we left – our weekly pocket money. Our other, wealthier grandparents gave us each a halfcrown (12½p), but I was always careful to show equal gratitude to Grandma and Grandpa.
Mam’s Mad Medley of China & Cutlery
While I loved this orderly tea-time ritual, I also adored my other grandmother’s more anarchic approach to crockery. At Mam’s, we didn’t even have to sit up to the table, balancing our tea plates on cushions on our laps while we watched television. On my grandather’s salary as an accountant, they could certainly have afforded matching china, but it never occurred to Mam to buy it. Every plate in her cupboard bore a different design, and although some cups had a matching saucer, no two came from the same set.
The same was true of the cutlery, some of which was cheap and ancient, imparting like a condiment an odd metallic flavour to each forkful. One year my parents replaced our cutlery and presented Mam with their old, still serviceable stainless steel set. She regarded it with undisguised suspicion.
Having noticed that some of Mam’s china was chipped, I bought her a beautiful bone china cup and saucer one birthday, splashing out more than I should from my student budget. The set was adorned with a delicate lily-of-the-valley designed – Mam loved lilies – and the word “August”, because her birthday fell on August 1st. I thought this personal touch would ensure that only she would ever use it, and I hoped it would enhance the pot of tea with which she fuelled herself each morning before anyone else in the household was awake. She admired it enthusiastically before tucking it carefully away for safekeeping.
Like Grandma, she could not shake off the memories of the Great Depression, followed by wartime rationing. When she died not long after that birthday, not only was the August cup and saucer still in its box, but in her airing cupboard we discovered unopened packets of tea and sugar, carefully stashed away against any future risk of shortages.
Decades have passed now since both my grandmothers died, but I still sometimes have such vivid encounters with them in my dreams that it comes as a shock when on waking I realise they’re no longer with us. And what usually happens in those dreams? Well, of course, I’m visiting their houses for tea.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like other articles about my grandparents:
Years ago, when I was a fresh young executive in the dog-eat-dog world of PR, it was the done thing to complain about your stress levels. Anyone in the office who didn’t was assumed to be not working hard enough.
Our boss Jim*, an ex-hack in his early 40s, was a kind man. Under pressure from the agency owners to maximise profits, he did his best to resolve our anguish, while still appearing to crack the whip. It can’t have been easy to be in sole charge of a bevy of ambitious young women, many of whom were prone to tears when losing a pitch for new business. Always the rebel, I was aghast when I overheard two women senior to me seriously discussing the merits of crying in the workplace: “It’s every professional’s right to express their true feelings.” I suspect there were days when Jim could have cried himself.
A family man with three lovely children, Jim was married to a former beauty queen. Although she adored him, I suspect she couldn’t offer him much practical help for dealing with women in suits. She’d probably have suggested a manicure to cure our stress. Jim’s solution was to send us on a stress management course.
Goodness knows how much the firm paid for that course. We were all shipped off to a posh country house hotel where our training session lasted all day. The cost of the coffee break alone must have run into treble figures. Inevitably, when we returned to the office, the training course made not the slightest bit of difference to our stress levels. All it did was salve Jim’s conscience that he was looking after us properly.
At the time, I was the only dissenter. “Cure the cause, not the symptoms!” I implored him. “Just eliminate the stress, instead of managing it.” I never did like wearing a suit.
Now that I’m working mostly from home, stress avoidance, not stress management, is my mantra. So when a nice man from confused.com challenged me to choose a stress-reducing gadget, with the chance of winning one for myself, I jumped at the opportunity. Jim could never have solved our problems with gadgets: they simply didn’t exist. In those days, the golfball typewriter was considered cutting-edge technology. If we wanted a gadget, we had to improvise. One of my colleagues infamously did so: she lobbed an ashtray at poor Jim in the middle of a difficult meeting. (Yes, it was that long ago: smoking in the office was still considered an acceptable way to manage your stress levels. Jim’s chosen prop was the cigar.)
My own approach to resolving stress is more constructive. I’ve pinpointed the early morning as the greatest source of stress in my day.
The stress kicks off when the radio-alarm wakes me up, ensuring that the first voices I hear every day are not those of my loved ones, but Messrs Humphreys and Naughtie on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Much as I admire these fine broadcasters, being woken by the news headlines is about as soothing as fingernails running down a blackboard. It’s less jarring when their gentler colleagues, Justin Webb and Evan Davies, are on duty, but even my favourite radio voice of all time, David Attenborough, could not make those news stories less than stressful.
The Antidote to Stress
Instead, what I really need to sound the alarm is an iPhone, loaded with soothing tunes, in an iPod dock on my bedside table. Music, not news, would wake me up: so that’s one source of stress that would bite the dust.
Another stress factor is checking the weather, so that I can put out the right school clothes for my daughter. Summer dress or winter pinafore? Light cardigan or sweatshirt? Boots or shoes? Socks or tights? I’d therefore also download a local weather app on to my iPhone. Then, each night before bed, I could check the forecast and lay out the appropriate clothes, leaving one less thing to worry about in the morning.
Knowing the weather forecast, I’d be able to ensure that it wasn’t just any old soothing music that woke me up in the mornings, but music chosen to put the most positive spin on the weather. (Ah, you see, all those years in PR were not wasted.) Whatever weather we woke up to, its accompanying tune would be a pleasure to hear. For sunshine, the choice would be easy: “Here Comes The Sun” by George Harrison. In case of rain, “It’s Raining Men” by The Weathergirls would never fail to lift my mood. For exceptionally bad storms, I’d pick “Greased Lightning”, from the movie Grease. Snow would provide the perfect excuse to play “I’m Walking in the Air” from The Snowman. If the weather ever got too depressing, I might cheat and load ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, a song that my daughter and I had on permanent repeat in the car last summer to raise our spirits while driving through pouring rain. But you get the general picture.
Less Stress For All
My system would be endlessly adaptable to suit all tastes in music. For those of classical bent, there’d be Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, although to reflect the impact of global warming and its ever-weirder weather systems, you might want to play the Summer movement in Winter, and vice versa.
You could also use the system to herald landmark days and events. “Get Me To The Church On Time” from My Fair Lady would signal a wedding. My daughter would not be the only one looking forward to hearing Alice Cooper sing “School’s Out”.
I’d even use it on days when I didn’t have to get up. I’ve thought of the perfect song for a lie-in, by possibly the most melodious duo of all time: Simon and Garfunkel. I bet you can guess what it would be: “The Sound of Silence”.