It’s been a great summer of sport to help keep our minds off more mundane issues. But with the onset of the football season, stress could begin to escalate. One way of de-stressing is to do some exercise yourself; you could cycle to work for example…
There’s something new to be stressed about – as if any additions to the list this summer were needed.
Personnel Today has been contacted by a sports psychologist eager to warn of a new source of deep anxiety. As if the war in Ukraine, skills crisis, staff retention woes, rising prices, drought, UK political uncertainty (a polite word for it), and tension over Taiwan weren’t enough, the Premier League is back this weekend.
England women lead the way
Football never really went away this summer, what with the glorious women’s European Championship ending only last Sunday and football league clubs kicking off a week ago.
The women’s final left a warm glow that could of course be extinguished by the toil of the men’s World Cup and long club season to come.
A lighthearted take on HR
But, says chartered sports psychologist Dr Josephine Perry, there are techniques to avoid stressful situations while watching football. And we all know how much time is wasted at work by (mostly men) venting about the previous weekend’s action, relieving the anxiety and stress of the match.
We often behave is if the result represented an assault on our ego, which must be explained away at length to anyone who will listen.
She suggests that the football fan employee should, instead of getting vexed at the result, “focus on the great moves or shots in a match and celebrate those”.
They should also “dig deep to find a sense of humour about the result if it hasn’t gone as they would have hoped”.
Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? But now we get into the heavy stuff, presumably for the football addict for whom a quip and an “oh well” won’t relieve stress at all. She suggests we “use deep breathing techniques to slow down your threat response – this helps your body to recover and your brain to return to more logical thinking”.
Create a mantra
After this there is only one recourse, to “create a mantra to repeat to yourself that keeps the match in perspective and helps you remember the bigger picture”.
Perry is to be applauded for this and deserves her own chant. “Oh Josephine Perry” works quite well to the tune of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army ..
Let’s hear more from her directly: “We become stressed when there is a stressor in place (like a football match) where the outcome really matters to us but it is completely outside of our control and so we have no influence.
“This situation triggers a part of our brain called the amygdala (essentially our threat system) to send cortisol (our stress chemical) round our body, increasing our heart rate. This makes us breathe much faster, giving us a dodgy tummy and tightens our muscles.
“Inside our head, emotion takes over and it becomes harder to use the logical part of our brain. Instead of being able to see the match as entertainment, we perceive a loss as a personal attack.” Oh yes, us football fans know all about that.
Which fans are most stressed?
But who are the most stressed fans? One would doubt that it would be Manchester City supporters, for example.
Well, research by the Punters Page (analysing tweets… hmmm) found that Manchester Utd fans are the most stressed followed by Everton supporters.
A great way of relieving stress is doing exercise yourself – but us busy employees often struggle to find the time. So the solution is: cycle to work!
August 4 was National Cycle to Work Day, which celebrates all the benefits two wheels can bring – relatively speedy journey times, cheap emission-free travel. The cycle-to-work scheme, whereby salary sacrifice is used to purchase equipment at a discount rate, has proved a great success.
By the time you get to work you’ve got something else to moan about”
Jane Hulme, HR director at Unum UK, waxes lyrical about the benefits of riding: “Some riders describe it as a form of meditation and many people find cycling can ease feelings of stress, depression or anxiety. Use this as zone-out time to clear your mind, and leave your worries at the side of the road.”
Hulme’s description brings to mind cycling along verdant country lanes, flowers in basket, bidding good morning to passing country vicars while enveloped in delightful birdsong. More petals than pedals.
A positive spin?
The reality may be different, however. One cyclist known to Personnel Today who regularly pedals through the City of London rejects this positive spin (spin – geddit). Far from leaving his worries at the side of the road he said it was more the case that he himself was often likely to be left on the side of the road. “Delivery motorbikes, vans parked in cycle lanes, taxis performing u-turns and now electric scooters buzzing around all over the place – not to mention aimless pedestrians and other cyclists jumping red lights – mean there’s no time to relax.”
He says there is a breed of cycling commuters who enjoy the adrenaline rush of traversing the city but recommends caution: “Use your brakes a lot and never aim to go fast; always be prepared to lose momentum and stay disciplined and hyper alert”.
Not so much zoning out and clearing your mind then, though admittedly central London must be the worst place in the country for a relaxed cycle.
Then again, a bit of taxi and lorry dodging while zigzagging through Holborn will keep the mind off last night’s match – and by the time you get to work you’ve got something else to moan about.