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National Stress Awareness Day

walking on sunshine book

Are you feeling stressed? The odds say you almost probably are. A survey recently released suggests that as many as 40 per cent of us now suffer from something called ‘brownout’ – a feeling of exhaustion, frustration and unhappiness.

Psychologists have borrowed the term from the energy industry, where a brownout describes a sudden drop in voltage that does not constitute a full power outage but causes lights to dim and flicker.

Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business school says that often the cause of a brownout is too much work and a feeling of being overloaded. Possibly, in part, because technology has allowed our work lives to invade our homes.

How then to switch off and recharge? One obvious answer is to acknowledge the strong relationship that exists between mind and body. Not only is it important to notice what we’re giving our attention to, but also to what we eat, how much sleep we get, and if and how we exercise.

In my own battle to beat stress and avoid a ‘brownout’, I’ve been influenced by the ideas of Professor Paul Gilbert from the University of Derby who describes three key emotion systems in the human brain.

First there is the ‘threat and self-protect’ system, which helps us look out for danger and to be better safe than sorry, which utilises emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety and disgust.

Then there is the ‘drive and resource seeking system’, which helps us seek out important resources, for example finding food, partners, and friends. This system is associated with emotions such as excitement and joy.

And thirdly, we have the ‘soothing’ system, which helps us feel content, relaxed and safe. We need all three systems to be in balance in order to function well, but many of us neglect this crucial final system.

Many of the tools I use to reduce stress therefore involve trying to be more compassionate with myself and to others as a way of boosting my brain’s ‘soothing’ system, which in turn has allowed me to feel more joyful.

One of the tools I use is to talk to myself as if I were talking to a child when I find that I’m being negative and self-critical. I find I become gentler and calmer as a result. Another is to recite poetry. Poems require our full attention in order to unpack their meaning and enter into a different world. By focusing on the poets’ words I can silence the endless chatter in my head.

Inner harmony and living in the moment might not always be possible, and certainly take time and application – we’re only human, after all – but I do believe they’re goals worth striving for. To that end, my new book Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness outlines the ways in which I achieve a little more calm and joy in my life.
Having suffered from stress, brownout, burnout, and depression in the past, I’ve learnt the hard way how to slow down and live with greater thought and intention. I hope some of my tips may help you too.

Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness is published by Short Books and is available for purchase on Amazon. For more information on Rachel please visit

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