New Kings Building

How to cope with pressure

Alistair Darling

How to handle stress: tips from a famous graduate

Aberdeen graduate Lord Alistair Darling was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the financial crisis a decade ago. He took a call from the Royal Bank of Scotland in which the chairman told him that the bank would run out of money that afternoon. In 2011, he published his memoirs Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11.

How did you cope with unimaginably high levels of stress?

Although being told that RBS (then the biggest bank in the world) would run out of money in just a few hours was certainly a shock, we just had to deal with it. The UK was strong enough to prevent a meltdown. We had a plan ready to go. So, you just have to keep calm and carry on. When you think about it, allowing the world’s banking system to collapse wasn’t an attractive alternative. And as a general rule, you shouldn’t panic until it’s absolutely necessary.

What are your tips for other people going through a stressful time?

Most things look better after talking to someone else. Don’t be afraid of seeking advice. It’s a sign of strength not weakness. Listening to Leonard Cohen reduces stress though it may not cheer you up.

What are the classic mistakes people make when they’re under pressure, in your opinion?

A classic mistake is not to take advice. Your first instinct may not be the best course of action.

What are your memories of your university days, and do you have any advice for students currently sitting exams?

I spent four very happy years in Aberdeen, much of it in the University Union, on politics and, according to my director of studies, not enough of it studying Law. Exams always followed Aberdeen’s hugely successful charities week. They may be hard work but it’s worth the effort. Just put your head down and get on with it.

What’s the most stressful part of the festive season for you?

I need never find the festive season stressful, it just seems to get longer and longer. Contemplating what the New Year may bring, on the other hand, can raise stress levels.