Eyes on wellbeing

How to feel less stressed: practitioners share their go-to destress hacks

As April is Stress Awareness Month, we asked 15 practitioners working in different modes of practice across optics, from High Street to hospital and industry, what they do to unwind after a busy day

 Mindfulness illustration that is yellow, pink, blue and green

As we enter the second quarter of 2024, some of you may be feeling a little frazzled with the daily work/life balance, looking forward to the summer holiday that is glimmering on the horizon.

You are not alone. “Interesting” and “rewarding,” yet “demanding,” “challenging” and “stressful” were some of the words most frequently selected to describe the optometry profession by members responding to the AOP’s membership survey last year.

Around one in three members said that they struggle with stress, managing their workload, and too much administration.

April marks Stress Awareness Month, four weeks dedicated to recognising the negative impact of stress, and highlighting how managing stress is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle.

Supporting the month, through the theme #LittleByLittle, the Stress Management Society is highlighting the transformative impact that small, consistent positive actions can have on a person’s overall wellbeing.  

We asked 15 practitioners what they to do destress after a busy day in clinic…

1 Ian Cameron, optometrist and managing director of Cameron Optometry, a Hakim Group practice

After a busy day in clinic, when I need to destress I spend time with people who don’t care about eyes. My family in particular are so good at not giving a hoot about stuff like glaucoma, frame prices and NHS regulations, which can consume me. Time with people who care about other stuff takes me out my worries and helps me get some perspective. Cliches like ‘there’s more to life than work’ and ‘a change is as good as a rest’ are actually correct. I don’t find I necessarily need to veg out in silence – although that’s nice at times too – but being required to consider other people is a great antidote to endless naval gazing when I’ve had a tough day.

2 Josie Evans, an optometrist in independent practice and at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and an AOP Councillor

After a busy day in clinic, when I need to destress, I have a cup of tea and regale my partner with stories from the day – a problem shared is truly a problem halved. This moment also provides a much-needed pause. I then refuel and reset – cook, eat, clean, shower – and my mind catches up over the process. If it’s been a particularly manic day, a 10-minute online yoga session before bed helps to calm my thoughts.

3 Andy Britton, optometrist director at Specsavers Haverford West

After a busy day in clinic, when I need to destress I get home and take in the wonderful views of West Wales, I get out of my work clothes and then prepare the family meal… I find cooking very relaxing and like to think I create some great dishes. After getting our son to bed, I find in the winter that a session on the Xbox, or in the summer getting in the sea on my kayak, takes me away from the stresses of the day – there is something very mindful and in the moment when you focus on an activity that takes you away from the real world.

4 Dr Martin Smith, optometrist and owner of Martin Smith Opticians

After a busy day in clinic when I need to destress I ride my bike – I bought a house 17 miles away from my practice along an old railway line, and there’s nothing like an hour on a bike to either calm you down or work out the stress. Sometimes I potter home and enjoy the wildlife I see, and sometimes I put the headphones in and do an interval session to music. Either way it always makes me feel better than if I drive the journey. Sometimes my son joins me for the ride, which is great. It’s amazing what I have managed to turn over in my head or get in perspective by the time I get home. I’ve ridden to work and back most days for 20 years and along with the immediate improvement in stress levels I feel the general fitness makes me more resilient to whatever life throws at me.

5 Ceri Smith-Jaynes, optometrist and OT clinical multimedia editor

After a busy day in clinic, when I need to destress, I lie on a thousand small spikes. Stay with me on this: I bought an acupressure mat about a year ago and I now lie on it before bed, listening to a mindfulness meditation. The spikes force you to relax your muscles and stimulate the circulation. If you can get past the initial ‘ooh, ouch’ it starts to feel warm and relaxing to the point where I can now fall asleep on it. My optometrist-back loves it.

6 Kejal Shah, ophthalmic director at Specsavers Surrey 2 home visits

After a busy day in clinic, when I need to destress, I like to get my creativity flowing. I love painting, baking and cake decorating. I am currently enjoying a diamond art painting of a peacock and look forward to framing it. Art is very meditative and therapeutic for me and allows me to be fully present in the moment.

7 Maria McAllister, Specsavers lead clinical performance consultant, and accredited transformational coach

After a hectic day in the clinic or back-to-back meetings, the necessity to decompress becomes paramount. I know that unwinding can prove more challenging than expected because we care so much about our patients. I’ve been leading CPD sessions at Specsavers PAC events on wellbeing at work, and investing time in further training in this area, because I believe that carving out moments for reflection and relaxation becomes not just a luxury, but a necessity amidst the demands of our profession. Superficial portrayals often seen on social media don’t help and our work can quickly become overwhelming without proper boundaries.

8 Sarfraz Majid, optometrist and practice partner at Holland Opticians, a Hakim Group independent practice

After a busy day in clinic, when I need to destress the first thing I do is get in the car with a hot drink and podcast at the ready. I have a long commute and it can sometimes take up to 90 minutes to get home. However, I’m a glass (or travel mug) half full kind of guy so I’ve just turned this into a positive. I have four young children, so I know it’s all systems go as soon as I get home. My journey home gives me the chance to unwind and reset, ready for my second shift of the day.

9 Kirsty Litherland, optometrist and practice partner at Holland Opticians, a Hakim Group independent practice

After a busy day in clinic when I need to destress, if I don’t need to go and pick up my little boy from school then I try to get to the gym. I joined about 18 months ago and it's a great stress reliever. If it’s been a particularly tough day, I'll really go for it and those endorphins then just do their work. Otherwise, I pick up my boy and a massive cuddle from him is perfect for letting the day melt away. Once he’s gone to bed I'll have a chat with my partner, curl up with a good book, or try and do something creative like sew or play the piano. And let’s not forget sometimes just watching a really good series on the telly is perfect when I don’t want to think about anything.

10 Luke McRoy-Jones, optometrist

After a busy day in clinic, when I need to destress I enjoy getting out for an evening run or walk along the seafront near to my apartment, to enjoy and embrace the outdoors. Living in Malta, I am quite blessed with 300 days of sunshine per year and a generally warm climate all year round, so I like to make the most of this and spend some time outdoors getting fresh air, which I feel is particularly important after being indoors in a clinic room all day.  

Recently I have started running again after a bit of a hiatus and of late have completed the Attard 10k and also the La Valette Malta Half Marathon. I hope to complete more events in the near future. Aside from this, I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, either watching TV or heading out for some food or drinks and I’m particularly partial to a pub quiz night.

11 Summer Elyoussfi, optometrist at Newmedica Leeds

After a busy day at the clinic, when I need to unwind, I head straight for my favourite meditation spot. Stepping outside into the fresh air, I find a quiet corner to clear my mind and take deep breaths. It’s amazing how a few moments of peaceful reflection can melt away the stresses of the day and leave me feeling refreshed and ready to tackle anything.

12 Dr Ian Beasley, OT clinical editor and AOP head of education

After a busy day at work, when I need to destress, I invariably go for a run. As most of my time is spent tethered to my desk, with the working day punctuated by seemingly endless pings from incoming emails, lacing up and leaving my devices behind allows for true escapism. If my day has been particularly stressful, I run hard and fast and push until I can’t go any further. Otherwise, I set out on a long steady run and slowly unwind for one, two, three hours or more. 

13 Hamza Mussa, optometrist and The Crazy Optom

In my opinion the best way to destress after a busy day is with a good laugh and good food. After the organised chaos that is my working day, I destress by listening to a podcast which consists of ridiculous Reddit stories during my commute home. I am very much a foodie and I love to cook. Once I’m home it’s usually a case of leisurely multitasking. I pop my headphones in and watch my favourite TV shows whilst figuring out what recipe to attempt. There is something about being in the kitchen that allows my brain to switch off and just chill out a little. I find it therapeutic, and the aroma is phenomenal.

14 Neil Retallic, optometrist and Specsavers head of professional development

After a busy day at work, when I need to destress, I love to attend a high intensity fitness gym class session, not only does this distract the mind but helps burn calories and focuses my competitive spirit into something that also helps with keeping fit. Also, it’s very social with usually no optics talk.

When it comes to the team, I find daily huddles give us a perfect chance to talk openly and address any concern togethers, whether that be work related or personal. When someone’s day is more stressful, arranging a coffee and a chat session, asking, “How do you feel today and how can we help?”, works well.

15 Gavin Rebello, optometrist, company director and business mentor at Holland Opticians, a Hakim Group independent practice

After a busy day, when I need to destress I will come home and start to cook. As we all need to eat to survive, I have a natural unwind built into my day. I tend to throw on a feel-good playlist, take a look at what is in the cupboards and think of a meal to create. I’m a home cook – you won’t be seeing me on Masterchef. For me, it’s more about how cooking really helps me to get into the moment and tap into my creative side.

If I have a bit more time, I’ll get onto the yoga mat. I usually practice either yoga or Chi Kung which focuses largely on breath work, is meditative and helps me to focus and reflect.

The best tip I could give to somebody dealing with a stressful day is to come home and do something you love and that is very much in the moment, whether that’s spending time with your kids, or actively doing a hobby that you enjoy.