Exactly How To Manage End-Of-Year Chronic Stress

Computer says 'no'.

Women's Health |

Tired? Can’t focus? According to a recent poll, there is a growing trend known as ‘cerebral overload’ – when you’re so overloaded and stressed that you cannot keep up anymore. Sound familiar?

Real talk: South Africans who are burnt out are not taking more than five days leave over Christmas. This, according to a 2014 mental health survey conducted by Pharma Dynamics, who polled over 1000 working men and women in South Africa about work stressors and vacation time. Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, warns that too little time off means you’re putting your health, mental wellbeing and relationships at major risk.

“The amount of information employees have to manage in their jobs is increasing at an alarming rate. South Africans spend an average 9.5 hours of their day in the office, more than people in the US and UK, who spend 8.8 and 8.2 hours in the office respectively,” says van Aswegen.

READ MORE: 8 Physical Signs That Stress Is Seriously Hurting Your Body

The bottom line? Never leaving your desk means you’re more likely to work less efficiently. That’s because stress affects how well your brain performs, says van Aswegen. “When you’re suffering with chronic fatigue and anxiety your brain starts to freeze and that’s when indecisiveness or ‘analysis paralysis’ starts to set in. You struggle to think straight and it becomes increasingly difficult to make the right calls, even for the most mundane tasks. Taking a proper holiday is as indispensable to the brain as oxygen is to the body,” she says.

But the real kicker: South Africans agree that holidays equal happiness, but won’t take them – because they find work too demanding. Twenty-six percent of the participants complained that their leave was too little, so they took it very selectively, while 14 percent said their employers discourage them from taking more time off. 68 percent of respondents felt holiday-deprived.

Can’t take time off? Hack the on-duty holiday – and kick cerebral overload – with these tips.


Research has shown that meditation can be helpful in lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and even improve cognition. And meditation is pretty simple: just find a comfortable place, close your eyes, relax your muscles, and focus on one thing. It could be your breathing, an object (a flower or a painting) – or even a picture in your mind. You can do this for as little as 10 minutes to experience benefits. The key is staying focused and not letting any distractions or thoughts enter your mind. If you have more time, take a yoga class – you’ll also be getting a good workout.

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Drink Green Tea

Green tea is very soothing – it contains theanine, an amino acid that gives flavour to green tea and also promotes relaxation. It’s also thought that theanine is a caffeine antagonist, meaning it counters the stimulating effects of caffeine. Super stressed? Ditch the flat white: caffeine can worsen the stress response.

Eat Mood-Boosting Foods

Many of us crave carbs like biscuits, ice cream and other sweet and starchy foods when we’re stressed, anxious or tense. Research suggests carbs have a soothing effect, and it may have something to do with low serotonin levels during these mood states. Serotonin is the brain chemical responsible for feelings of calmness and relaxation. It’s thought that consuming these carbohydrates helps boost serotonin levels, so you feel calmer.

Create a Relaxation Room

A relaxation room doesn’t have to be a “room” per se – it can be a space in your bedroom, for example, but the key is having an area or room at home, solely devoted to relaxing. You can have a really comfortable chair or daybed, with dim lights, or candles nearby – whatever it is that you enjoy and find relaxing. This will give you an opportunity to decompress, with very little stimulus. Forget your cellphone and laptop – this is a time to kick back and relax. You might want to read a book or magazine, but the idea is to clear your mind of distractions and stressors.

Those suffering from anxiety or compounded stress during the holidays can contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.  

READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Stress