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Dan Woodger

Londoners with stressful jobs share their tips for staying calm

From a black-cab driver to an air-traffic controller, we ask Londoners with super-stressful jobs how they handle the pressure

Written by
Dominique Sisley

1. The opera singer

‘One of the things I like to do when I’m stressed about work is listen to a podcast or use a mindfulness app. I don’t find listening to music helps when I’m stressed, as I guess it’s too close to what I do every day, but I’m able to switch off quite easily by listening to conversations. It’s completely natural to be nervous (or even stressed at times!) before a performance, so one of the last things I do before I walk on stage is focus completely on my breathing and visualise what I’m about to do. (I also love a long soak in a lavender-scented bath – I mean, who doesn’t?!)’ Fflur Wyn

2. The wedding planner

‘When I need to calm down, I take a little time out away from my desk and just focus on breathing in and out deeply ten times to set myself back to zero. Or I’ll make myself a coffee and take my mind off work for ten minutes with some music to recharge my brain. I also love to go to the theatre, walk along the South Bank or play in Green Park with my daughter: those are the things that allow me to relax and enjoy life in this wonderful city.’ Ayshea Donaldson

3. The gas and electrical engineer

‘Working with gas and electric is high risk, so I tend to get tunnel vision when I work. I have to focus really intensely on the job to avoid making potentially deadly mistakes. I take regular breaks, and always have support on hand. Outside of work, I like to hike and camp and get away from anything man-made. I find keeping physically fit is a great way to keep myself alert and fresh mentally.’ Tobias Williams

4. The high-rise window cleaner

‘At the beginning of my career, I used to feel very nervous. But it’s been 12 years now, so I have no problems with it. It’s part of my routine and just something I do for my job every day. What keeps me calm is the confidence acquired through doing this for over a decade, as well as reminding myself that the equipment is safe and that I am working with a team of qualified professionals who I trust. I relax by playing football or video games. I also spend as much time as possible with my family: that’s what really helps me decompress.’ Ionut Caimac, Spectrum Window Cleaning

5. The firefighter

‘I’ve been a firefighter for 14 years. In the early days, I didn’t really know what to do after a particularly stressful incident – I’d usually joke about it and pretend it was all easy. Now I see that was a coping mechanism and a macho pretence. We go out socialising as a team quite a bit, our bond is very strong. You develop a kind of gallows humour in this job and it definitely helps, but if someone was struggling we would all pull together and help them, or get them help. I’ve learnt how important it is to talk. The stress never completely dissipates, and it’s normal to be worried or even scared in certain situations: it’s how you deal with it that’s important.’ Anonymous

6. The chef

‘In this career, you want everything to be perfect. It’s all about a constant striving for perfection. For chefs, 19-hour shifts are not unheard of. I always look forward to the after-service drink and chat. It’s the wind-down afterwards that gets you through it, and the camaraderie. Also, the warm-up, having an espresso and a chat before the shift. Those are two vital elements: the warm-up and the wind-down!’  Bradley Green, Green’s Steakhouse

7. The London Assembly member

‘I try to be very organised and prepare as much as I can, which means when things come out of nowhere, it’s easier to manage. Being a parent has made me very focused in my work because I have a deadline every day when I have to do the school run. Learning to say no and being able to prioritise your work is key to keeping calm. A bit of chocolate can also help.’ Caroline Pidgeon

8. The tube driver

‘I’ve done 17 years with TfL. The most stressful part of my job is when passengers run at the doors when you’re closing them. I can’t understand it when there’s a train every two minutes. Usually I’m pretty chilled. I live in the borough of Ealing and I’ve got two dogs, so as soon as I get home I take them out and go on a big long walk.’ Karen Baker

9. The doctor

‘It may sound weird, but I’ve found my toddler daughter’s Play-Doh to be quite therapeutic! When I’m in a work situation, though, it’s really simple things like taking a two-minute break for a cup of tea, and trying to see the bigger picture. It helps clear my head. I also try to lighten the mood by making jokes – in negative or stressful situations, if you don’t laugh about it, you’ll cry about it.’ Dr Joseph Machta

10. The actor

‘When I left drama school I was so green – I didn’t really get nervous before auditions. But after several rejections, the nerves started to kick in. In the past, I’ve been so anxious before auditions that I’ve feigned illness so I didn’t have to go. Now, to get over nerves,
I make sure that I’m early, then find a coffee shop nearby to go and relax in beforehand with a drink.  The only coping mechanism I have is to make sure I know the script and I’m on top of everything, so I don’t have a chance to beat myself up if it doesn’t go well. Once it’s all done, I like to eat lots of good food – really indulge in a lovely meal.’ Georgia Brown

11. The bar manager

‘I’ve had a staff member drunk on shift, people not turning up, we’ve run out of alcohol, the tills have stopped working… these things can disrupt your whole flow. You just have to go outside, you’ve got to leave! You have to walk away, take a breather for five or ten minutes, then go back inside. When working the bar, if you get too angry and caught up in it, it’s not going to work, so you have to separate yourself from the situation. You’ll come back with a better sense of it.’ Clio-Louise Martin

12. The football referee

‘The most stressful part of refereeing is managing the players’ frustrations and getting them to calm down: trying to control their anger but also trying not to get too drawn into the situation. It can make me frustrated, but you just have to slow the game down and speak to them. Also, you have to remember that everything that’s said to you – they don’t mean it. Players say hurtful things and you think it’s directed at you, but it’s just the frustration that comes with the game. When I finish, I like to go home, cook, watch “Match of the Day”, and just relax.’ Jawahir Jewels

13. The photography producer

‘I deal with the stress of my job by laughing. I also do a “zoom out” thing where I practise “zooming” out the room, out into the street, further and further out into the world, to gain perspective on a situation where something might be going wrong. Often in those situations, we get very narrow-minded and focused on one thing and it seems so humongous. This helps me see how insignificant the issue may be. It helps me deal with what would otherwise be extremely stressful situations in a calm and collected way. Or I put on music really loud and dance. “Eye of the Tiger” usually works.’ Anonymous

14. The air-traffic controller

‘We’re trained to look out for the signs of stress, both in ourselves and our colleagues. Our work pattern is also regulated by law, so at Heathrow, for each hour and 30 minutes, you must have a 30-minute break. What we’re encouraged to do within that rest period is go away and do something completely different and unrelated to the task we’ve just done or are about to do when we go back. You can go and read a book or newspaper, watch TV, chat with a colleague, have a cup of tea, and when you come back you’re completely recharged. I really love a quiz. That tends to help. Other than that, it’s just about chilling out: when, these days, do you really get a chance to just sit and read a newspaper? It’s a real pleasure.’ Ady Dolan

15. The black-cab driver

‘The most stressful parts of my job are of course the traffic (which is getting worse) and when customers are running late and they put their stress on to you. All we can do is our best! If things get too much I’m fortunate to be in a job where I can just go home. If I don’t want to go home, I pull over and get out to have a stretch (I’m 6' 8"). Then, off I go again.’ John Walsh

16. The bodyguard

‘A short walk and fresh air generally help with stress – being inside and sat down usually compound it. Generally I try to use Ibuki breathing, which is used in martial arts and is also now being taught to more people in the corporate sphere. It involves breathing in sharply through the nose and very slowly out through the mouth, “pushing” the breath all the way into the pit of your stomach. It really helps bring in focus.’ Leo Carey-Williams

17. The ultrarunner

‘I try not to push myself too hard with running. I do work hard, but I’m a big believer in the idea that I get more out of things when I’m relaxed. I’ve got a pet rabbit for stress busting, so I often get home from busy or stressful days and just stroke him. He’s really soft, which is pretty good. He’s like a little dog. I have always wanted a pet, but I thought it had to be a cat or a dog. But being in a flat in London, they’re not really feasible options. Rabbits are fine, though – I mean, he does chew through things, but you just have to rabbit-proof your house and you’re fine.’ Cat Simpson

18. The nurse

‘The most stressful part of my job is definitely the short-staffing. Not having enough staff affects everything: you’re not able to do things as efficiently as you need to, and you can’t get things to the patients as quickly as you need to. As a result, it’s not always possible to take a break. I tend to cope by messaging friends and other nurses, telling them how I feel. That’s quite therapeutic because you know people are going to be feeling the same as you, and you’re not alone. Also, making jokes with the patients – not only does it make them laugh, it makes you laugh too.’ Danielle Jade

19. The stock trader

‘For me, the best stress relief is hitting the gym. I like to do weights and boxing. I also like to go for a walk in the local park and read or gather my thoughts, weather permitting. I will often go for long walks through central London before or after meetings to avoid being in crowded areas, such as on the tube, as this helps me to reflect and realign myself.’ Zaheer Anwari

Illustrations: Dan Woodger

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