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Stress Out

Call me an ungrateful wretch, but if any more know-it-all brainiacs attempt to improve my mental health, I’m going completely mental. Yet I have to admit, I am helpless to resist any advice that promises to make my work life a little easier on what’s left of my nervous system. So when I found an article from Helpguide.org on “How to Reduce and Manage Workplace and Job Stress,” I had to dive in.

Forgetting for a moment those of us who are trying to reduce and manage no-job stress, let’s join hands and see if we can discover some emotional stability in our crazy, mixed-up, shook-up world.

Speaking of our world, the authors do place the blame on the pressures of work in a pressure-cooker economic environment. “‘Layoffs’ and ‘budget cuts’ have become bywords in the workplace,” they report, “and the result is increased fear, uncertainty and higher levels of stress.” This is, no doubt, true. It is also just plain mean to bring it up. Many of us have managed to blind ourselves to the crumbling state of business by ignoring the high probability that we won’t even be able to hang on to our miserable jobs. If you prefer to work in a state of ignorance, stop reading here! It only gets worse.

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The warning symptoms of excessive stress include “apathy, loss of interest in work, trouble concentrating, social withdrawal, and loss of sex drive.” As a business columnist, I don’t have much to say about your sex drive, but we all do remember it quite fondly. As for a loss of interest in work, that started in high school when you decided that working on your geometry homework was a lot less satisfying than hanging out with your girlfriend or boyfriend at the mall. (There’s that sex drive!)

Being a selfless person by being interested only in helping others, it may be difficult for you to accept the first prescription to reducing your stress-level from “ready to blow” to “happy little zombie.” Yet, that is exactly what the experts recommend. “Start by paying attention to your physical and emotional health. When your own needs are taken care of, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress.”

And let’s face the facts — your needs are simple. All you ask for is a computer to play “Asteroids” all morning and a desk chair in which you can nap through the afternoon. Also, you want free snacks, free health care and unlimited sick days. The cost of paying for these simple needs may stress out your boss, but once you’re satisfied, you’ll be as calm as a plate of strawberry JELL-O and just about as productive.

Once you’ve decided to focus on you, it’s time to turn to specific stress-busting activities. Unfortunately, the authors’ first suggestion is a non-starter: “Aerobic exercise — perspiring — is an effective anti-anxiety treatment lifting mood, increasing energy, sharpening focus and relaxing mind and body.”

Perhaps, but if anyone expects you to lift your mood by lifting weights, they can think again. You’ve spent years developing that soggy, droopy mass of pasty-white flesh. You’ve trained like an Olympic athlete to smoothly turn down any invitation to physical activity. You’re a slug — a super slug — and you’re not going to change now.

There are techniques for reducing job stress that even you can embrace. “Don’t over-commit yourself” is an idea that makes a lot of sense. As little as you do, you could do less. It might not be easy to develop more sneaky techniques to avoid working, but isn’t that what American ingenuity is all about?

“Try to leave earlier in the morning” is another brilliant idea. Incredibly, the authors seem to be talking about leaving your house earlier, so you get extra minutes at your desk, but the real stress-buster is to leave your desk earlier in the morning. Frankly, your current schedule of sneaking out the back stairs after lunch is ruining your health. You need to leave even earlier or not come in at all.

“Resist perfection” is another tip for turning your workplace pressure cooker into a crock-pot. Fortunately, by screwing up everything you do, no one could ever accuse you of being perfect, as your most recent annual review proves. Sure, stress reduction may be cutting years from your employment, but you are definitely adding years to your life.

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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