Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Today's fortune: August 10, 2011

Today's fortune: A sound mind and a healthy body bring many happy events to your family.

I'm working on the healthy body part. It's an uphill climb. The part that really intrigues me about this fortune is the bit about a "sound mind."

The closest I ever came to a nervous breakdown occurred about nine years ago. In 2002, after I returned from a summer internship at a daily newspaper in Hannibal, Mo., I took a job as a copy editor and page designer on the sports desk at the Kansas City Star. It was a great career move for me; I grew up reading the Star, and this was my chance to work for my home city's proud standard bearer.

But the hours were awful, and the pay was worse. I think I made minimum wage, and the shift was from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. a few nights per week. But I didn't care; this was a great stepping stone for my career.

Occasionally I was assigned to the copy desk, where I would proofread articles for the next day's paper. But most of the time I was designing pages in the sports section. At first they started me off with one page per night, then two, and finally up to three. That number is deceiving, though, because it's actually double. First, you had to design the pages for the early edition of the paper, the one shipped out to surrounding areas, and then you had to redesign the pages with new information and photos for the city edition.

One particular evening a month or so into my employ, the design desk was short-staffed, and I was assigned four pages. With about a half-hour left before the early edition deadline, I was way behind, and my editor - a very, very intimidating man - was literally breathing down my neck, barking at me to hurry up and finish. When he turned his back for a second I sneaked out of the room and headed for the john.

As I stood there, staring in the mirror, I began to hyperventilate. I couldn't catch my breath. I was crying, and I couldn't control it. Fortunately, nobody else was in the bathroom.

But I knew I had a job to finish. I was able to splash some water on my face, pull myself together and walk back in there. I finished, minutes before the deadline. Then everything was reset for the city deadline and I started designing the pages all over again.

That moment in the men's room at the Kansas City Star was among the worst experiences of my life, and I've never felt so stressed or anxious as I did then.

The job I have now at Acme Co. is not more stressful than that job. Not by a long shot. But it does have a significant effect on my stress levels. I'm feeling more anxious and rushed by this job than I ever did at any newspaper (besides, obviously, The Star).

Time for a confession: a couple weeks ago, the anxiety was getting bad enough that I saw a doctor for it.
I'm okay, though. And with the doctor's advice - and my wonderful wife's support - I am taking steps to alleviate the stress.

Deep breathing - a.k.a. meditation for a regular guy - helps a lot. Sometimes I sneak away and take a nap mid-day. Even just half-closing my eyelids tricks my mind into chilling out. Little stuff like that can make a huge difference in giving me a sound mind.

When all else fails, I listen to music. Music always makes me relax.

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