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Wednesday, 5 November 2014

National Stress Awareness Day: My Tango with TV

Imagine waking up to a stress-free week day. What would the first few minutes look like? Perhaps you roll over and cuddle up to your other half for a few more blissful minutes (or hours, hey, it's your imagination) of sleep with no alarm to wake you up; perhaps it's breakfast in bed made by your children (just watch out for any stray eggshell!). It might be opening the window to the sound of the sea and the salty brine smell undulating on the breeze into your room.

National Stress Awareness Day 2014. I was aware. I was very aware.

And now imagine the start to my day today, on #NationalStressAwarenessDay NSAD. It started at 4am, 30 minutes before my alarm was due to go off, but, I realised, probably a good thing, as I tried to haul my creaking back and arm out of bed. I thought somewhere their sleepy voices were murmuring at me: "Surely it can't be time to get up yet? We were having a nice dream about penguins hopping around. Can't you leave us to sleep?"
"No. I can't. It's 4am and I have to manage to get dressed with only an hour and a half to do it in because yesterday I agreed to go on morning television to talk about being stressed at work!" I'm definitely feeling some stress right now.

Live. Live at 4am, 5am, 6am, etc. You name it, they're live.

The programme I was to appear on is called London Live (never hear of it, apparently linked to the Evening Standard etc.) and asked me on in connection with Mind as a 'case study' of someone who has suffered stress at work, along with a representative from Mind who would talk about a new study that shows that 56% of people surveyed (and 64% in the UK) agree that work is very or fairly stressful.

Studies in America show similar results: it's clear that wherever we are (and yes, this is a first world problem in my case and in many of our cases) stress is a major problem. We can (mostly) afford to eat and (some of the time, most of the time) pay our bills, but work is stressful, family is stressful, and life is stressful.

I also asked my Twitter followers and friends for their experiences. This is what they told me. (Okay, so only eleven people responded to my survey, but still, that is better than none!)

Jessica's Twitter Stress Survey. 11 responses. Thanks to #MarianKeyes for the retweet!

As my more regular readers will know, I'm trying to be more open about speaking out on my mental health problems (in which I would include excessive stress) so I was delighted to be asked despite the early start to the day. I also wrote a blog for Mind themselves, published today, which you can read here.

Last night I thought about what I might say, fully aware that TV breakfast segments tend to be at most 5-6 minutes long, and worrying (stressing?!) that I might go on a bit and cause time troubles...However, I thought through a few things and felt fairly relaxed. Until I received the email from the producer.

"Unfortunately we do not have a makeup artist and Jessica will have to do her own."

Now you might think that as someone who didn't exactly embrace the idea of a makeup-free selfie, that this wouldn't present a problem. But remember now, dear reader, that my skin tone is ivory. Not ivory, but alabaster. Not alabaster, but ghoul like in its paleness. And here's the rub: the TV lights just make one look paler still. Yikes.

This is me, except you don't need to paint the whiteness on. It's right there already.

YouTube came to the rescue as I remembered Lauren Luke's tips from some years ago, and imagined that if there was a video telling me how to get three stars on every. single. level. in Angry Birds, then surely there must be something on TV makeup. And I was right. So, folks, the next time you're asked to go on camera (whether male or female...hey, we can all learn something) this is a good video for you.

Of course, the beautiful star of this video seemed to me not to have the whiter-that-white bleached skin effect, so I had to adjust her tips just a little. And what I did was this: Get Tangoed. In the bathroom at 4.55 with three massive bags of makeup emptied out on to the bathroom floor and my laptop blaring at me how to do HD TV face, I gradually applied product after product to perfect my skin to extreme levels of orange. This was the after effect. I'm sure you'll agree it is a charming look.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Luckily, the satsuma skin didn't show on camera, and hopefully my nerves didn't either. Alex Beard, the presenter, was just lovely - warm, friendly and beautiful, and I truly felt that it was just us and no one else was watching. [Jessica, no one else WAS watching. This was 6.40am. Reality check. Even your mum wasn't watching because she doesn't live in London.] I was co-interviewed for the first segment of three with Tom from Mind, who then had to leave for other radio interviews.

Lovely London Live presenter Alex Beard.

Left alone for the last two segments at 7.30 and 8.20, It was actually easier doing the interview one on one - I worried less about not saying enough or hogging the slot, because I was the only one in the chair anyway. And thank goodness for the brevity of the slots: sitting on stools is not a comfortable idea for a spinal fusion patient. Hopefully I wasn't grimacing too much!

Me on TV! (Not looking orange at all - see!)
Watch my Interview Here (only available for a week but will try to get a copy!)

On a serious note, though, I was able to share the mental and physical impact on me of being under tremendous stress at work in the past, which led in part to my increasing depression - particularly not being able to talk about it, as I've said in an earlier blog. feeling sick, afraid, not sleeping, having appetite problems and more are all medical symptoms commonly linked to stress, although Mind's survey reported that some people would either often be too afraid to take a day off, or would pretend there was something else - physical - wrong, rather than name their reason as 'stress'.

I experienced many of the physical and all of the psychological effects above.

On the way home I decided to stop into Marks and Spencer for a bottle of milk. That's a pretty stress-free activity, and hopefully no one will notice that your face currently resembles an overripe pumpkin in a Sainsbury's carrier bag. In I went, and managed to move balletic-ally (or as near as I could manage with a wired arm and screwed back) to the dairy section, narrowly avoiding a collision with an M&S store worker who was carefully navigating her buns to the bakery section. Phew. Milk in hand, I headed for the checkouts.

This being mid-morning on a Wednesday, the full coterie of checkouts are not in service: too early for the lunch time rush; too late for the On-the-way-to-work crowd. An elderly woman with a threatening-looking Zimmer frame was unloading items from her trolley at a speed which challenged theories of forward-moving time; a father in the next aisle grappled with Percy Pig requests being howled at him by three small children. Another no. Hence, to the self-checkout queue, which I prefer as long as people know how to use the machines PROPERLY. That is: get in, scan, get out. Done.
Unfortunately here too lay disaster. The woman ahead of me wiped her snotty toddler's nose with a combination of her sleeve and her hand before selecting "Pay with card" on the screen. The outlook looked mucussy..

However, my luck turned! Another self-checkout machine opened up. I was just about to press "Finish and pay" when a sales assistant appeared from nowhere and asked politely: "Would you like any satsumas today madam, they're on special offer?"

"No, thank you," I replied slowly, with all the dignity I could muster on my clemetine-coloured complexion. "No."

From tangerine to squeaky clean.

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