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The Hill Life: Hello, Stress, My Old Friend

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.

LEAVE A COMMENT

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  1. qwerty says:

    I definitely agree with headphones. I splurged on the $36 pandora year membership and I listen to everything from classical to country to try and ease my stress.

    also when i'm stressed, i treat myself to a piece of dove chocolate. i keep them at my desk and on the inside they have little inspirational quotes, which always pick me up.

    i can't wait until the weather gets nicer so i can take lunch break walks around capitol grounds.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. qwerty says:

    I definitely agree with headphones. I splurged on the $36 pandora year membership and I listen to everything from classical to country to try and ease my stress.

    also when i'm stressed, i treat myself to a piece of dove chocolate. i keep them at my desk and on the inside they have little inspirational quotes, which always pick me up.

    i can't wait until the weather gets nicer so i can take lunch break walks around capitol grounds.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  3. Chelsea says:

    I've definitely had the same problems. The headphones help me a lot when I need to focus. I also try to plan an event for every night, even if it is just “go to a coffee shop and read” or taking a walk with a friend. I also find yoga very calming. When I'm not in my apartment, I don't stress eat.

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  4. Chelsea says:

    And I don't do Sudoku for 5 min breaks, I read your blog 🙂

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  5. prosecutordc says:

    I agree. Reading your blog is my “crossword”…It may be bad for my wallet, but its light and is a nice distraction. So thanks!

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  6. Meg says:

    Oddly enough, I was just checking your blog to take a break from my own work : ) Also, if I'm feeling stressed I leave my desk and briskly walk up the stairwell a few times. Try doing this in 3 inch heels for only a few minutes and the burn will make you forget your work for a short while.

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  7. Laura says:

    I highly recommend Duel on the Wii, sorts my stress levels out right away!
    Good tips, I will definitely take a pair of headphones in to work with me from now on. Yesterday I found myself needing some music time as I wrote a speech.
    Thanks for the tips 🙂

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  8. Megan R. says:

    I keep a rubber band ball on my desk. When I'm stressed or can't focus, I lean back in my chair and spend a few minutes tossing it from hand to hand or a few inches into the air. It's weirdly relaxing – and my always-poor hand-eye coordination has improved!

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  9. T says:

    make a list! write down anything and everything that makes you stressed…from “boyfriend issues” to “need press release done in an hour”. it may seem strange to write out all your work and personal stresses out together, but at least for me, it feels good to have it all out on the page so you know what you're dealing with, instead of having that nagging stress feeling in your gut.

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  10. Candace H says:

    Love the post and agree with the commentators that this blog is my stress relief! When I first came to the Hill, I noticed I started putting on weight because I didn't have the time to work out like I used to (20+ miles a week running). I learned to cut down the calories and drink tons of water. I quickly returned to my normal weight, and have stayed steady for almost a year (and I no longer run).

    Also glad to hear about the headphones! I'm the only one in my office that uses them to cut out distraction, and it's made me insecure at times. Good to know there are others out there.

    February 9, 2011/Reply
  11. qwerty says:

    I definitely agree with headphones. I splurged on the $36 pandora year membership and I listen to everything from classical to country to try and ease my stress.

    also when i'm stressed, i treat myself to a piece of dove chocolate. i keep them at my desk and on the inside they have little inspirational quotes, which always pick me up.

    i can't wait until the weather gets nicer so i can take lunch break walks around capitol grounds.

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  12. AL says:

    I had a Sudoku puzzle a day calendar on my desk and I would try and do a puzzle a day. Makes your brain work in a different way AND gets you to stop staring at the computer.

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  13. Shadowcat14 says:

    Such a good post! I definately occur with the getting up and moving comment. If possible I try to walk to between buildings when I am running errands. Assuming it is nothing pressing, it is ok to take 30mintues to walk a mile and back to deliver something. It makes you feel better.

    https://nesieandherpurplepuffin.blogspot.com/ I am new! Please comment so I can make my site better

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  14. jenny says:

    The timing of this post could not have been better for me! The only reason I wasn't able to “feed” my feelings this evening was because the Chipotle by my apartment was closed by the time I got home. But, fortunately, the gym in my building is still open! Thanks, Belle.

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  15. Jessica says:

    those are great tips! I also like listening to music to drown out the noise of my co-workers. I've found I like music without or with few words best because it lets me concentrate on what I'm doing.
    I've also found constant computer use to be a stress factor, so I try not to use my computer too much at home, and to turn it off well before I go to sleep. It really helps to sleep better.

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  16. K says:

    If you have an office where you can close the door for privacy, taking a 5 minute dance break is sometimes really helpful, even when I'm not in the mood.

    It also helps me to sit back and de-personalize my work stress. I remind myself that I get paid to do this because it's “work.” Take a few breaths, remind myself why I chose this career, and tell myself that I won't have to deal with it once I go home tonight because it's just one piece of my life.

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  17. Belle says:

    An office with a door? K, you're so funny 😉

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  18. KRF says:

    I also read Capitol Hill Style as a quick stress relief from work! To help avoid the extra pounds I take the stairs whenever available and walk everywhere (even in the elements as long as I am prepared in advance). Another great stress relief web page is astrologyzone.com. Its fun to read each month (regardless of how you may feel about horoscopes) and Susan Miller is surprisingly on the mark!

    February 10, 2011/Reply
  19. Adrienne says:

    I turn on my candle warmer sitting on my desk hiding behind my monitor every morning while logging on to my computer. Find a smell that calms you stick with it. I also play classical music on pandora.com on low volume And last but not least you MUST feel the outside air sometime during the middle of the day especially if its one of our gorgeous sunny days. Oh yeah, and taking 5 minutes to read your blog. 🙂

    February 11, 2011/Reply
  20. An says:

    Great post. Exercise does the trick for me.

    February 12, 2011/Reply
  21. charleigh says:

    Something that I see as incredibly beneficial if you are willing to set aside the money every month, is to do yoga (and I mean being committed to going for a good while… months. A year even). I lack the motivation to lay out a yoga mat and do it on my own at home, but the main reason that I go to do it is for the comraderie of the people you meet in your class. It's not even necessarily that those people will become your friends outside of the class, it's just the familiarity of seeing their faces once or twice a week and exchanging short stories about your lives that is valuable. Plus, once you are done with your hour stretch-session, you feel incredible because you know that you have done something great for your body, and you even sleep better and just feel overall more confident about good about yourself (the same if you went jogging, or even just brisk walking a few days a week). If you are a regular too, the muscles and tonage you begin to see on your body makes you feel more attractive.

    How I save for it:
    — I will bring in my lunch most of the days out of the week.
    — I either bring in my own coffee/ tea from home, or drink the coffee at work vs. fork over the $$ for Starbucks.
    — Forgo those evenings/nights out that I can usually predict won't amount to much fun (like when you are with those friends we all have
    that don't like to let loose).

    As for @work, the station that I listen to on Pandora is Adele “Hometown Glory” with some “La Valse d'Amélie” and John Mayer thrown in. The mix is what I have found to be the best for me over time, and it is appropriate for work and helps to drown out the noise, stress, (and sometimes boredom) around me.

    As for eating, when I'm stressed, I won't turn to food, I actually will just stop eating (which is probably worse as you can't think or sleep well). When eating has even become a chore, I will drink jamba juice which is delicious, easy, and healthy (though it adds up).

    February 15, 2011/Reply