07/05/2015 13:08 BST | Updated 07/05/2016 06:59 BST

How Does a Sceptic Beat Stress at Work? I Go for a Walk


Stress is crippling the office. It's the reason Google's offices look like a playground, law firms now feature 'nap rooms' and it's why the company where I work offers me a massage every two weeks.

The fact is that giving me a bouncy ball to sit on might make me happy for a few weeks but ultimately I'm just going to end up with massive back pain and an increased 'walk to the coffee machine' ratio than ever before.

As you've gathered, I am not a particularly open person. I have - and probably always will - suffer from the 'stiff upper lip' school of emotional wellbeing. I can't be sure where it came from, I just know that it's there, and no amount of sweet counters or 'wellness balls' are going to make my deadlines any more manageable.

As such, I'm a terrible sceptic. I don't particularly like the word 'wellness'. For me it immediately conjures up images of people drinking overpriced coffee in sweatpants after having spent a fortune on some revolutionary new yoga routine that involves balancing your cat on your head.

I know for some, balancing a cat on their head might be the miracle cure, and for them I'm truly happy. For me however, I can't think of anything worse, and probably neither can my cat.

As a journalist I've found that the media - as a species - suffers from a particularly textbook form of stress. Whether you work for a magazine, a newspaper or online the structure is the same: you're always working towards a deadline.

While the industry has changed, the stress remains the same and until recently, I've been killing myself by trying to fight it. Alcohol is a standard form of defence, as is smoking, both have served their purpose in the last few years but neither really helps the root of the problem. Simply opening a bottle of wine at the end of the day might seem like a well deserved rest but when it becomes a bottle every other night, the reality is that you're simply stoking the fire.

It has since occurred to me that neither of these are viable solutions. Instead you have to go right back to the basics. You have to be selfish and go for a walk.

For many - myself especially - guilt will raise its ugly head. You'll question what your colleagues will think of you if you leave the office, and honestly, for me that was the biggest hurdle to overcome. Don't feel guilty, you're no use to anyone stressed, you're even less use to yourself if you're stressed and guilty.

So I overcame my guilt, and once a day during work, I go for a walk. I get out of the office, leave my work phone behind and simply walk. Sometimes I plan a route, sometimes I don't. In fact it's almost better if you don't because then you're spending even less brainpower working out when you have to turn left or right.

While I'm walking I think about the problems and the lists that I have to tackle and I mentally organise them. I take a deep breath and virtually lay them down onto the giant mental floor of my brain. The solutions won't present themselves straight away but the simple act of taking your problems and setting them free of the office suddenly makes them more manageable. You gain context - something that all to often is lost in high-stress work environments. Will the man who's sat lazily drinking his espresso across the road care if you can't write both features in the next half an hour? No, and neither should you. You'll get them done, and by setting realistic goals they'll be better features for it.

Trust your judgement, if you're worried about having too many things to do, the likelihood is that while it may take a little longer, they'll all be solved. The human brain is spectacularly good at solving problems and since having more faith in myself I've realised that for me certainly, stress is nothing more than a badly organised traffic jam of problems.

I know this won't be a solution for everyone. Instead think of it as a humble confession by a sceptic that has finally realised that while balancing cats might not be the solution for him, that's not what wellness means. It's about finding any means to organise the traffic.