In spite of its name, this cruel form of punishment doesn't originate from China. It is likely that its origins go back to the 1400's when an Italian lawyer and doctor called Hippolytus de Marsiliis, created this form of punishment. He believed that, in the same way drops of water can wear down a stone over time, they can have the same destructive effect on a person's brain. It works like this: Victims are strapped down to a chair and either cold or warm water is then dripped slowly on to their foreheads. The mental anguish is caused by three factors: Firstly, the victim can see the drops as they fall; secondly, the few seconds anticipating each drop increases the pain; and thirdly, the victim becomes more and more frantic and paranoid by imagining that a hollow is forming on the front of their head.

Stress and anxiety operate in the same kind of way.

You start off not feeling very much pain. Little things begin to irritate and apply pressure in different places. Drip... Nothing significant, nothing too painful, but persistent, nonetheless. Drip... drip... Soldier on, this will pass. Pressure builds, bit by bit. Drip... drip... drip... Things become more and more uncomfortable. You now feel trapped and slightly claustrophobic. Drip... drip... drip... drip... More pressure. Is it imagined or is it real? Doesn't matter, either way you still feel trapped. Then one day, without warning, the flood gates open.

Game over.

From my experience, there are four things that you can do to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace.

1. Fish in the right ponds

  • Stick to your core strengths: Work out what you are good at, what you enjoy doing and try to understand the core essence of your personality. Find a career and a company that match. This is by far the most effective way of remaining on the mental straight and narrow and avoiding excess stress at work.
  • Raise your hand: Insist on getting support from the beginning if you start to feel yourself drowning. You might well be in the right job but you may simply be experiencing teething problems. Don't wait until it is too late.
  • Ask to be excused: Once you had sufficient experience of your new responsibilities put your hand up quickly if the job is not for you. Cut your losses before the pain sets in.

2. Run on a full tank

  • Refill the tank: Take time off before starting any new job. The previous few months are often quite stressful and you may be running on empty and in need of rest and recuperation.
  • Keep the batteries charged: Be disciplined about exercising daily. Physical and mental fitness go hand in hand.
  • Turn off your brain: Evenings and weekends should be strictly off limits as far as work is concerned. Give your brain the time off it needs and deserves

3. Build an early warning system

  • Spot the signs: Identify any potential warning signs that you will be able to spot when the going gets tough. Are you laughing, eating, sleeping, socialising, exercising enough?
  • Nominate a guard: Share these early warning signs with your partner or a friend and asked them to ‘police' your behaviour.
  • Take action sooner rather than later: Be more honest about how you are feeling and be proactive about taking steps to rectify things when the wheels started falling off.

4. Come out of the closet

  • Own up quickly: If you are struggling, come clean with work colleagues quickly, whatever the consequences. Always better out than in.
  • Be open with others: Be equally open with both friends and family about how you are feeling. Sharing the pain will reduce the burden.
  • Get professional help: Get checked out by a doctor sooner rather later. It always helps having an independent and qualified expert assess your mental state dispassionately.

The workplace is a breeding ground for anxiety, and unchecked, this can you lead you into deep and dangerous waters. Stress is unavoidable, indeed the stress that keeps you on your toes, excited and exhilarated could be called ‘good stress'. But when you are feeling stressed in a job that you don't enjoy, one for which you are not cut out, then this will become ‘bad stress' and just like Chinese water torture, that can be really destructive.

Mark Simmonds is a creativity, insight and innovation expert and the founder of GENIUS YOU - a company which helps teams develop winning ideas by strengthening creative muscles