The Hill Life: Hello, Stress, My Old Friend
Feb 9, 2011
When I first started work in D.C., I gained somewhere in the neighborhood of 40lbs. I was completely sedentary. I was under a megaton of stress. And, like most women, I eat my feelings. But it wasn’t the extra weight that was the problem.
In fact, I liked the pounds so much, I kept 10 around for old time’s sake.
The problem was how the pounds came to be. I gained weight because I was too busy/too stressed/too overwhelmed to take care of myself. But I’ve learned my lesson. When you NEED the cheeseburger, instead just wanting the cheeseburger, it’s probably time to think about how you’re managing your stress level. Here are some things that I do to keep from soothing myself with chocolate cupcakes and onion rings.
Get Up. As a staffer, one of the worst things you can do is become a cubicle monkey, someone who sits at their desk all day and only moves when she has a meeting or needs lunch. So every day, I try to take 10-20 minutes to leave my desk.
I take a memo around for signatures (if I only need one or two) instead of sending the intern. This is a great way to get out of the office, and you get to meet all the staffers you’ve been e-mailing with. So drop by and say hello. You get a break and a chance to network.
I take the stairs down to the lower level to get a soda or a cup of coffee. You burn a few calories, and you get some life saving caffeine.
Sometimes, I’ll even take my Blackberry on a walk, and answer email while I head over to the Capitol for a few minutes of sightseeing. This is best done on non-session days, but as long as I have my electronic leash, I’m still working. So why not go walk through the Rotunda or sit in the gallery for a minute?
Drink Water. Most offices have water coolers, so there is no excuse for not getting your eight glasses per day. And drinking water all the time will prevent the 3pm snack craving that leads so many Staffers into the transfat-laden arms of the Longworth snack shop.
Headphones. I have a huge problem concentrating when there’s ambient noise. It’s like I’m programmed to hear and process every conversation happening around me. It’s why I hate bars/loud restaurants/crowds. So when there’s more than one conversation happening, it feels like a fusillade of chaos is flattening the inside of my brain. I can’t think. I can’t work. I can’t concentrate.
The trouble is that in the cramped quarters of Capitol Hill, with five to eleven staffers crammed into a cubicle farm, all talking and typing at the same time, there is no escape from the noise.
Last week, an ENT suggested that I may just be more sensitive to noise than some people, and that I should try overpowering lots of noises with one sound. He suggested music from an iPod. I’ve been trying it for the past two days, and it’s been good for my productivity. So, I’m going to keep it up.
The bonus is that not having the noise to deal with plus having a tune or two to listen to has kept my stress level down a bit as well.
Crosswords. One of my old co-workers used to keep a crossword at her desk. When she’d start to get overwhelmed, she’d solve a couple of clues and it would calm her down. It would also help her clear her mind for a few minutes, allowing her to regain focus.
The same would probably hold true for Sodoku, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Wii. Yes, Wii. My younger brother was kind enough to give me one for Xmas, and it’s been a big help for the nights when I come home ticked off. Instead of diving head long into a vat of peanut butter (my pre-packaged poison of choice), I plug in the Wii and play Snowball Fight or Tennis or (my favorite) Duel, where you absolutely beat the hell out of your opponent American Gladiator-style.
Thirty minutes later, my arms are usually killing me, but I feel like a person again.
I suppose you could also go to the gym or something, but I hate the gym. So I prefer something…uh, less strenuous. Or maybe just more private.
No matter how you choose to deal with your stress, the point is that you have to deal with it. If you don’t, it will steamroll you. And one day you’ll wake up 40lbs heavier wondering how you body surfed down the slippery slope so quickly.
So how do you manage workplace stress? I’d be interested in hearing some ideas. But please don’t say drinking, we already know D.C. is the undisputed champion of the open bar reception/fundraiser. If staffers couldn’t imbibe to calm their frazzled nerves, the government would need to start handing out Xanax by the caseload.