Back to basics: stress management

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Running pub is not a simple role in any terms ­ especially not in its emotional impacts. The working hours that upset the rhythms of a conventional...

Running pub is not a simple role in any terms ­ especially not in its emotional impacts.

The working hours that upset the rhythms of a conventional day, the proximity of home to work allowing little personal space and the need to perform (licensees are, in a sense, on stage before an audience) can take their toll. Add to this disciplining staff, matching mood swings to the varied temperaments of customers, all these and more test a publican's mental and physical resources to the limit.

As the National Statistics Office figures for age of death by occupation show, keeping a pub can be very wearing ­ there is a pattern of personal strain caused by a multiplicity of factors with little opportunity to deal with the stresses.

Publicans, just like everyone else, need to maintain a range of essential, emotional coping skills. Thinking straight, keeping calm, staying positive, getting enough sleep, getting enough to eat, buttressing your confidence and stabilising relationships are just some of the key strategies.

Keeping a balance between work and play is one of the commonest and most effective ways of ensuring your coping skills stay sharp. Tellingly, it is exactly that balance that publicans find most challenging.

The answer could lie in leisure counselling. This is a method of using your hobbies, interests and outside activities to focus in on your problems with a view to minimising, marginalising and even destroying them.

There are three basic ways of mobilising leisure against stress:

  • Distraction: shifts attention away from a problem onto a chosen leisure pursuit
  • Anticipation: schedules a pleasurable happening in advance to lift low moods by giving you something to look forward to
  • Confrontation: requires choosing and promoting an interest which directly opposes the problem, forcing it out of your focus of attention.

The following fictional, but typical, stories will help you get an idea of how these three strategies might work for you.


Barney¹s pub was a madhouse. Staff shortages at critical moments made managing a clientele with little time and substantial thirsts very difficult. From opening to closing time there were sudden surges of patience-poor customers, all running to tight schedules and all demanding service.

In the thick of it, Barney found it impossible to wind down. When he reached his flat at the end of the shift the orders would still be echoing in his ears. "I must find some routine to shift my mind from work and relax me," he said to himself. "I¹m heading for a crack-up."

Barney visited a chemist and picked up a handy booklet on relaxation which described a range of approaches, some yoga-based, others employing meditation. But it was the muscle groups, tension and release techniques, that immediately appealed.

He sent off for the tapes and manual along with audiotapes and DVDs with mood music or soothing scenes to open up the whole process of loosening up and letting go.


For Peter and Claire, who managed a relatively quiet pub in the leafy suburbs, the emotional challenges were vague and hard to pin down. Neither was young and that created a sense of insecurity. The routine rhythm of the job was building a sense of aimlessness ­ at least before Claire hit upon the idea of renting an allotment.

"What we need," she asserted, "is a steady something-to-look-forward-to", a hobby that adapts conveniently to our none-too-lengthy periods of leisure, takes us into the open air and is something we can share or work single-handed."

Claire was right. Keeping an allotment (fortunately they took on a going concern, not a jungle) gave them a schedule of regular, pleasure-promoting activities with an end result. There is always something to do, plan for or enjoy, and the occasional crises and disappointments were outweighed by the triumphs of producing their own fruit and veg.

Almost as important was the sense of ownership. Renting an allotment can provide a feeling of belonging, a bond with the soil to overcome the pain of rootlessness.


Tom was a member of a team running a large inner-city pub. It was noisy and demanding work. The clientele were young and for the most part, orderly, but there was an unpleasant element that regarded the staff as targets for sarcasm and sometimes abuse.

"Keep it pleasant," was the manager¹s unruffled response. "Don¹t let it get to you."

The staff tried to implement this advice but there was a cost ­ Tom felt sudden surges of rage.

What he needed was an interest that would allow him to release or possibly sublimate the anger, and the new gym he joined was a godsend as far as that was concerned.

It opened at 8am and closed at midnight, the kind of hours even pub workers can manage. And though its fees were astronomical its staff were flexible, which was convenient because Tom¹s opportunities to go along were spasmodic and the fencing classes he wanted were difficult to catch.

He discovered a real aptitude for it and was in no doubt that this refined, aggressive sport brought him emotional benefits.

Despite little improvement in his work stress, the surges of rage become less frequent and his outlook brightened. There were anticipatory features, too, in this battle between symptom and sport, which sport was winning.

Something to look forward to

Anticipation is the most useful way of dealing with stress. It is relatively simple to adopt, taps into a wide range of recreational possibilities and lends itself to profitable mental rehearsals that translate planned pleasures into self-commands, such as "I'm not going to stay depressed because I've much to look forward to".

The one overriding instruction to pleasure-schedulers is to make sure no event ends without plans being laid to continue the schedule. In the case of keeping an allotment, for instance, future momentum is kept up by the nature of the hobby ­ there are always things to do from season to season. In other contexts prompts and cues must be inserted.

What is a leisure audit?

A leisure audit is a serious, systematic exploration of your hobbies and interests to assess their contribution to your well-being.

Current, past and possible future leisure activities should be assessed for how they perform within the three strategies: distraction, anticipation and confrontation.

You might then choose to:

  • drop existing interests
  • redevelop existing interests
  • revive past interests
  • discover fresh interests.

These choices should be based on your needs rather than habit, tradition, convention or fashion.

The writerDean Juniper is director of the Centre for Stress Research at the University of Reading. If you want to find out more, he has written a Manual for Leisure Counselling (Kirkfield, 1993) which is available in many libraries or can be ordered from any bookseller.

Related topics: Training

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