Friday 20 July 2018

'I tell them to 'back off'' - Psychologist David Coleman knows when he needs to de-stress

David Coleman, clinical psychologist, broadcaster and author, talks to Liadan Hynes about how to achieve balance and help cope with stress.

Clinical psychologist David Coleman
Clinical psychologist David Coleman

'I consider myself lucky in that I've had no periods of constant, chronic stress. I experience a lot of work pressure, so time management is usually my key stress point, but never to an extent where it's overwhelming or crippling - more that I've sometimes got too much to do and not enough time to do it."

Often, it is those closest to him who will point out when David Coleman is suffering from stress. "My family give me the feedback that I'm getting snappy and grumpy. I actually don't want to talk to people. When everybody tries to give me advice or guidance, I tell them to 'back off'." he says.

A certain level of stress can have a positive effect; exactly what level will be unique to each person. "We all need some level of stress and pressure, in order to keep us focused and moving forward, but what turns out to be just the right amount of pressure is going to be different for every person. So my sweet spot for peak performance, and the level of stress that creates that, will be different from yours."

Organising, and then leaning in, can often help. "What I know doesn't work when I'm stressed is when I put my head in the sand and try to pretend like it's not happening. What does work well is when I actually apply myself. Reprioritise. Really look at what's the closest, or the most important deadline. And then apply myself to work."

Maintaining balance in your life, and knowing when to take a break, is crucial. "I can't write for more than 20 minutes before I've got to take a small break, in my own head even. So I parcel up my time. I might assign a three-hour period to do something, but then within that I'll have taken five to 10 breaks, where I've just let the mind drift, or checked something on my phone or made a cup of tea."

As well as small habits, big practices that lift us out of the daily stresses are immensely beneficial. "I sail, and that is my big stress-reliever. Obviously it's a bit seasonal, but certainly this time of year, I try to prioritise. It's a total break from the real world."

Having a support network to rely on is necessary. "It helps to have people around you who are supportive and you feel you can listen to. So even though I might snap back at my wife when she says, 'OK, maybe you've taken on too much' I'm still grateful for the fact that a) she's recognised I'm under pressure, and b) it brings me back to the fact that I now need to do something with that pressure."

Small coping strategies that are already part of your daily routine, rather than attempting to take up new practices at times of stress, will kick in at difficult times. "We need to practise them enough that they're second nature, because at the key moment when you're anxious, it's very hard to start remembering steps. So when you build something into your daily life and it becomes habit, then it's much easier to find it and use it again when you are under that pressure."

David's tips

Eat well, sleep well and get exercise. Stress is quite a physical thing in our bodies at times.

Think proactively, make plans. I joke with my wife that she has a list almost every day. Achieving what's on your list is a very reinforcing thing. You can feel like you have made progress in getting some of this stuff behind you.

Get time off. Having that little bit of 'me time' is so important. Most of us are pulled in many directions. Certainly if you're a parent, it's very hard to find 'me time'. Most of us end up falling into bad habits, not healthy ways of dealing with stress. So if you have a hobby or pastime, make sure you always keep it to the fore. Don't let it slide.

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life