Curved walls on a building

stress management

Matthew Hoddinott

MD of Olyi LTD, helping businesses and people in the construction industry, develop sustainable, inclusive and safe communities so that everyone can led a fulfilling life.

I’m really interested in healthy buildings and the way people interact with the built environment, and the positive effect that it can have on our health and lives.


It’s not only my job but also a passion and belief that I have.


My interest has led me to read many books around the subject, looking at everything from diet through to being active, and how building design can accommodate (or not) these factors.


My latest book is called “The Healthy Work Place Nudge”. It’s really insightful into the hidden cost of bad design and the affect on communities as a whole. In chapter one it encourages business leaders (and everyone) to do an “actual age test”.


Mine came out positively, a couple of years younger, BUT I did fib a bit and said I did (or didn’t do) a few things more often than not. For example, only have sugary doughnuts once a year rather than the weekly treat they appear to have become. And I know, I’m only lying to myself etc.


What amazed me most about the test though is “stress”. The test continually refers to stress, not blatantly, about money, or work, or home life, or incidents that have or are occurring.


It shouldn’t have amazed me though, as I have been talking about the negative impact of stress for many years now, but this test really brought it home to me.


Out of say, 50 questions, probably 20% related to issues of mental health, happiness and the relatable problems we all face and bundle under the label of stress.


In Dan Buteners book, The Blue Zones, he identifies areas in our lives which will positively increase our life span.


These are drawn on documented interviews, studies and statistics – not any old whimsical belief.


For example, a committed life partner relationship will increase longevity, providing you actually like each other and more than tolerate your partner.


Taking part in community activities, being part of a community and lifelong friends who you can share your burden with – they all add years to our lifespan.


The “Age Test” confirms this, knocking years away from your actual age if you have these valuable relationships in place.


But, conversely, if we lack purpose, if we fear Monday mornings, if we worry about money, and if we work in a high stress (not pressure) environment, then this adds years to your age test and reduces your lifespan.


Documented evidence spoken about in building standards guides such as the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) or Fitwel for example, show medical evidence that our biggest cause of death has change from infectious diseases in 1800 to chronic disease in 2010.


By “chronic” we refer to cancers, heart issues, diabetes etc., many of which can be traced back to lifestyles having a part to play in their occurrence. And one of the biggest contributors is stress.


Having not touched alcohol for nearly 5 years now, I recognise the impact that self-medication had on my life. I used to believe that the only way to sleep was to pass out.


I would forget my problems, my never ending to-do list, my fears for the day ahead etc. What I didn’t bargain on was that when my dreams became less fuzzy (the alcohol effects wore off) I would be awake worrying again.


3am is a very lonely time of day which allow your thoughts to manifest, especially if you are lying down with little else to do except to TRY and sleep.


This then becomes a broken spiral, almost like Groundhog Day. It has a huge impact on our ability to cope with pressure turning it into stress.


The “Age Test” flagged this.


What it did say, positively, and what we know from Healthy Building and Community Design is that if we can promote and experience:


  • Encourage loving and caring relationships
  • Workplaces where we are more active (not a run in the morning and sat behind a desk for 8 hours), frequent active movement
  • “Stress” coping techniques (and these don’t have to be meditation but possibly a simple walk, a connection with nature or perhaps some lunchtime gardening)
  • Better diets and hydration (maybe using the food we have grown through our lunchtime gardening)


Then we will significantly reduce the impact that chronic disease (including the effects of stress and anxiety) will have on ourselves and our colleagues.


Imagine all these positive items found within our workplace?


How happy will our Monday mornings be then??

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