Ducks, buses and racing cars: my approach to stress


Recently a few friends, both those stuck in my phone and in real life too, have said they have benefitted from tips I have given them on coping with stress. I’ve been encouraged to write a blog post with these tit-bits, so here goes. These are the edicts and stories I recall whenever I come across a potential stressor. They’re no intended as any kind of solid professional advice, and probably don’t apply to major causes of stress, or any clinical causes of stress or anxiety, but merely apply to day-to-day sources off stress. They’ve done me well so far in life, so I share them here should they help anyone else too.

20140519-135535.jpgThe first is an anecdote told to me by Phillip Box, one of my orchestral horn teachers from the Royal College of Music where I studied as a junior. Just before a concert with some very exposed, technically challenging horn parts, Mr Box relayed this tale to us as a section, and it has stayed with me ever since. It is the story of the Number 9 Bus. The Number 9 passed the college everyday come rain or shine. The number of the bus, by the way, can be substituted for whichever bus passes you daily. We’re reminded to think of the Number 9 Bus passing by whenever we face something challenging or daunting, for whatever happens, whatever the outcome, the Number 9 will continue to pass. Life goes on unaffected in the grand scheme of things. Approaching challenges positively, without stressing too much about them, and knowing the number 9 will still pass by, will allow you to enjoy experiences, whilst learning from both mistakes and successes. It sounds silly, but simply thinking of the Number 9 Bus when approaching a stressful situation has a remarkable effect for me, and in the 10 years since first being told the story, not a week goes by where I don’t recall that old Routemaster.

A pair of quotes from the actor Paul Newman also come to mind frequently in stressful situations. As well as star of the silver screen, Newman was also a very successful racing driver, and it’s racing to which these two quotes relate. They are Newman’s Laws:

There are two Newman’s laws. The first one is “It is useless to put on your brakes when you’re upside down.” The second is “Just when things look darkest, they go black.” – Paul Newman

20140519-135601.jpg These can be interpreted in different ways, but for me they simply boil down to: “sure it’s not looking great now, but quitting now won’t help” and “sometimes things just get worse and you have no control over it, so just do the best you can to get by”. When everything is coming at you at once, Newman’s laws have popped into my head and stopped me hitting the breaks. It probably helps that to me, Newman embodies a sense of determination and drive to succeed in the face of adversity, and a belief that if you want to achieve something then there will always be a way to do so.

Lastly, if all else fails, there is always Duck Theory. Passed on to me by the awesome assistant camp director at Over The Wall, Jenn Ewing, Duck Theory is my answer when someone asks why I seem so cool and level-headed. It is simply to ability to appear graceful and under control on the surface, even if underwater your paddling away like crazy. I don’t mean to suggest hiding stress completely, as that’s never a good idea, but if you display your stress on the surface, if you’re an upside down duck, then it will get you nowhere and only create more trouble. First used as a Team Leader at Over The Wall camp, where even with a million and one things to remember, you have to be all smiles and laughs for the kids and your fellow team mates, Duck Theory has passed over into how I try to manage myself at work in the hospital. When my pager goes off ten times in a row, and the list of jobs to get done just keeps on growing, Duck Theory allows me to keep going without the thread unravelling in front of patients and colleagues.

A combination of the number 9 bus, Newman’s Laws and Duck Theory are, for me, enough to get through day-to-day stresses without creating unnecessary anxiety. I’m sure they won’t adequately help with bigger stressors or organic anxiety, but as so many friends have reported benefitting from them as pieces of advice, I offer them here so they may help others too. Comment below with any wee strategies you use when faced with challenges and stress.



One comment

  1. katiejoneill · May 19, 2014

    I like Duck Theory and the no.9 bus analogy, thank you. I shall put them into action!!

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