When the pressure gets too much

Beverly Hopwood meets an executive who thinks positive and a mother of three who sometimes loses her cool
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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE STRESS BUSTER

John Farrell, 38, is group chairman of DMB&B Communications Group, which includes the advertising agency DMB&B and the promotions and direct marketing agency IMP. He lives in Surrey with his wife Karen and two-year- old daughter Helena.

"One of the most important ways of reducing stress is the extent to which you have variety in your daily work. Every day is different for me." John's desk diary would make many blanch - row upon row of hieroglyphic- style entries filling the page from head to foot, stretching for weeks ahead. Last week's schedule was typical: board meetings in New York for two days; plunging straight into more meetings in London after getting off the plane; lunch-time locked in a "creative session" with colleagues; an afternoon of internal management matters and the evening spent burning the midnight oil with a chief executive of a big UK plc over business. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights are usually given over to socialising or doing business with colleagues and clients, but he makes it a hard- and-fast rule to be back at his desk at 8am every morning. "Sure, I have very hectic schedules, I'm constantly trying to pack in the absolute maximum in a day but I find it very exciting. Provided I'm personally committed and enthused by what I am doing, why should that be stressful?

"One of the most important things is not letting it get to you. I have 600 people working here as part of the UK group of operations and you have to face facts. Every day something is going to go wrong. Some days something quite serious will go wrong. What you've got to do is manage your environment so that you try and prevent it happening as often as possible. And make the absolute most of the fact that everyday something good is going to happen - you're going to win a new piece of business, someone is going to win a creative award, someone is going to produce a great piece of work. You've got to get a buzz out of the really good stuff going on around you. That's what inspires me - having bright young people who are very creative. I can feed off that energy, which makes me feel good and, in turn, means stress doesn't become a factor.

But you've got to be aware of different people's thresholds. I work in a very creative environment and they are very fragile. You have to be sensitive to people around you and that's why an awful lot of people in advertising-related business probably are quite good managers of stress and stress-related issues. No one is Superman. On occasions I get stressed but it's about how you manage it. My way is to do something about the problem rather than let it run away."

John keeps a steady eye on his diet, swapping between decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee so his "heart rate doesn't go bananas" and ruling out "lumps of red meat and alcohol during the day".

Weekends are for "cleansing walks", catching up on sleep and packing in some tennis and golf. "I call it sport and not exercise because it has the connotations of things that sound like work. When I play I get very focused on what I'm doing and I enjoy it because it blocks everything else out. It's an opportunity to do something completely different at the weekend."

"One of my recipes for dealing with stress is to cut off. From Monday morning at 6.30 through to 7pm Friday evening I think about work, but after I think 'Right, that's done, now I'm going to be involved with family and friends. I'm not someone who talks about work. I much prefer meeting people and talking about music, sport, art, the world. I get a great buzz from my family. I love playing with my beautiful two-year-old daughter and one Saturday afternoon recently we went out in my convertible. She was in her babyseat in the front and we were cruising, both with our shades on, and it was great fun. I think life's for living.

THE STRESS VICTIM

Jenny Macleod lives in Ealing, west London, with husband Peter and her children, Catherine, 5, James, 4 and Clare, 2.

Having her children has given Jenny the best years of her life and some of its more stressful moments. "Unrelenting and unpredictable" is how she sums up the experience.

"You're on duty 24 hours a day and if you go out in the evening, you're still, as the woman, thinking about the children," she says. "You have to get a babysitter and you're worrying, checking you've given her the right number to contact you if she needs to. You can be up all night with the children and there can be demands all day."

With one too many manic mornings still fresh in her mind, Jenny laughingly admits she is not convinced she always copes with stress. Mornings can be a desperate scramble to get the children fed and dressed, their teeth cleaned, her eldest daughter's school lunch packed and listen to her read, all attempted with three gregarious children's energy levels flipping into overdrive.

"They might be running around the whole morning, but they might stop and go into their ignore mode," she says. "I might have to shout three times, volume increasing, and physically I am moving them to the door. To a great extent it's my fault. If I were more laid-back or took the advice from experts which says take a step back and calm down, I could handle it better, but it's very difficult.

"Sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees. Then, of course, there's this guilt if you do shout. I think, 'What have I done, have I damaged them for ever, will they love me ever again?' The guilt is dreadful."

One way Jenny has of reducing stress is steering clear of the taking the children to the supermarket, but other shopping scenarios cannot always be avoided.

"I was out a few days ago with the children buying shoes. I was in the queue with one child, another was getting very bored and another was running round and round, picking up shoes. I could feel the tension building up inside me until I shouted. It happens every single time. There's also the pressure of other people looking at you in a way that says 'My God, you're a mother and you can't control your children'."

Jenny was an assistant company secretary of a multinational computer leasing company until she was made redundant five and a half years ago and since then she has been in the fortunate position of not having to go out to work. In many ways she says the stresses of work and home are similar.

"There were an awful lot of things to get through at work because it was a very busy department and the hours were so long. From that point of view, being a mother hasn't changed anything. At work you can sit down, though, and have a coffee and think, 'Bother, this is my lunch hour and I need time to recoup.' But it is not so easy to do that as a mother. At the same time I feel more in control. I can organise my day as I want. But, like work, there is a certain extent of unpredictability which can be extremely stressful."

When her youngest, Clare, was born, Catherine was three and James just one. Coping with three children at such young ages was the toughest time for Jenny. Now Catherine is at school and James at nursery, she has felt the pressures ease and has more time to call her own.

"I am very lucky living in Ealing as there are a lot of mothers here with young children," says Jenny who belongs to the National Childbirth Trust and One Three Five, an organisation set up by mothers for mothers. "It gives me support, means I get adult conversation, and I know other mothers are going through the same experiences as me. It makes a lot of difference when you're pacing the floor at 3 o'clock with a crying child and you know other people are doing exactly the same thing."

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