Feeling Stressed? Tip – its DESSERTS spelt backwards, so treat yourself!

 This post is by Associate Professor Evonne Miller, Director of QUT Design Lab at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia – and one half of the Supervision Whisperers editorial team. 

We all have those days – glance at the clock, realise it is 4pm already and there is no chance whatsever of you getting to that PhD students draft today. And it’s been sitting in your in-box, watching and waiting for your attention for nearly 2 weeks now.

And then there is the guilt. I have been working with a just graduated PhD (disclaimer: not my student) on an article. He rang to cancel our Monday meeting… then joked that he would ‘need to cancel 3 meetings’ to match me. I laughed, but felt awful – had I really canceled the last three meetings? It’s possible, as my work with him (to my mind) is outside my core activities and thus I do tend to look at those meetings with more flexible eyes… #!~\^!?’^!!  But three meeting cancellations… thats a lot. Darn it!

So.. how do we cope with the relentless demands on our time as an academic.. and not order / bake / buy multiple desserts when stressed?  After all, the fact that stressed is desserts spelled backwards has to be a subliminal sign that we need more chocolate mudcake in our lives RIGHT NOW… right?


Well – maybe.

Chocolate always helps – especially if you can eat it with friends, over wine. 

chocolate and wine.jpg


But, as well as a rationale for enjoying more desserts, below are two steps that might help all of us wrestle back a little bit of control when we are feeling under pressure and stressed at work. Step 1 is something we all can and should do straight away.. Step 2 will require a little more planning and thought – but we can do this!


Let’s lead by example and show our students how we proactively and positively take steps to manage and reduce workplace stress.

Step 1: Take a deep breath – an immediate, right this second, action
I know, everyone says this – to breathe, and to breathe slowly and deeply. Well, there is a reason: it helps. And it is is something we can do RIGHT NOW, at any time, and it costs nothing.

Try it: Inhale for five seconds; hold and exhale through the nose. Repeat.

Do this a few times and feel your body start to calm down. A few minutes of deep breathing will really help restore balance, focus and calm. As well as calming you down, it might help stop you from impulsive reactions – like calling your colleague an un-informed idiot who should have read your proposal more closely…. instead, breathe and more calmly explain that the answers he is seeking are on the second page, point four. Breathing slowly and consciously – it sounds and is simple, but it really will help us all feel immediately more in control. And, in case you did not know, Hilary Clinton is a massive fan of alternate nostril breathing.. which is like it sounds (see: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/09/how-alternate-nostril-breathing-works/539955/)

Step 2: Deliberately integrate play, fun and joy  – a longer term action 

If we want to enjoy our lives more, and be less stressed, we need to schedule in time for fun – for doing something that makes ‘our soul sing’. We need to choose joy – cheesy, but true! What can we each do regularly – on a daily, weekly basis – that fosters joy, fun and contentment?

One suggestion: how about looking at everything your local university offers and engaging in something that interest you – awhile back, the wonderful onsite theatre company at my university had a matinee session. With a busy week and two young kids, there was no way I could get to the evening show that month… but I took a long lunch break and attended the matinee – alone. As the picture below highlights, it was wonderful, a real enjoyable break and moment out during the workday.. an artful escape from work. That was months ago, a once off – but lets all engage in more joyful, appreciative lives –  ideally on a more regular basis: lets carve out some time in our work day / week (or at least monthly) to do something fun and look after our soul!  


And – you have to admit –  that knowing stressed is desserts spelled backwards has to be the best justification ever for ordering the chocolate mud-cake.. ideally with friends, over coffee or after a movie. So please reframe stress: when you feel it, use it as a reminder to check in with yourself about how you are travelling and whether there are enough ‘desserts’ in your life.. lets use the experience of stress to justify making time for desserts in our lives!

So – please join me in taking some steps away from stress! 

What’s your stress-reduction action plan?  

First, breathe.

Second, schedule in some joy… 


All photos taken by Evonne Miller. Image 1 is from a funny retro image calendar I have, with the saying “Stressed is DESSERTS spelled backwards”. Image 2 is wine and chocolate.  Image 3 is the set of a wonderful play I escaped to one lunchtime in early 2017: Single Asian Female at La Boîte Theatre Company in Brisbane, Australia  (I highly recommend the play). 


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