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State employees get tips on dealing with stress

At a time when furloughs, layoffs, budget cuts, caseload increases, fears of pension loss and general angst seem to be a part of the workday of some state employees, the state has offered its workers some help from a professional therapist. One rule: Take a deep breath whenever possible. Another suggestion: Avoid the media.

The latter may be a stretch for some of those who attended a meeting last week in a CalPERS conference room. That’s because they grapple with the media as part of their jobs, and they’re members of the State Information Officers of California, or SIOC, which represents the press contacts in the bureaucracy, among others. Good luck avoiding the media.

But the stress level among state employees is significant, at least as significant as in the private sector. For those charged with communicating the state’s message to journalists, the ability to resolve stress is significant: Reporters, already stressed by dramatic changes in their profession, don’t need their nerves jangled still further by the state’s spokespeople.  

So a group of state employees showed up at a counseling session sponsored by SIOC to get tips from therapist Douglas Cyr on dealing with stress. (His best idea of the day: If you can’t sleep at night, try warm milk, honey and a banana. “What do I do with the banana?” one woman wondered. There were several suggestions).

Cyr, a university professor and veteran therapist hired by the state, appears regularly before groups of employees – the following week he planned a session with the CHP – and he offers suggestions on coping with stress. His basic message is that one first needs to recognize stress, then deal with the issues in a systematic way. Stress affects general health, job performance, personal and professional relationships, just to name a few, so recognizing and resolving stress is crucial. It’s all pretty much common sense, but if you’re stressed, sometimes displaying common sense isn’t so common.

A reporter, buoyant and perky on arrival, immediately felt stressed as he examined a list of 43 potentially life-changing, stress-inducing events, neatly categorized according to seriousness. The scale ranged from of 100 for the worst – “death of a spouse” – down to 11, for a “minor legal violation.” In between was a litany of woe. Divorce was a 73, marriage was a 50 (one person said they should have been reversed), jail time was 63 and breaking up a romantic relationship was 65.

Of course, the rankings are subjective at best. Sexual difficulty was a paltry 39  and retirement was 45. Being fired at work was a 47. Is it really more stressful to be fired than retired?  Going to jail and suffering the death of a close family member both were ranked at 63. Hmmm…

The idea was to total up the points in the categories that affected you. The lower the total, the less stress.

Under 150 means “A small or no chance for stress-related illness. A score of 150-199 means “mild levels of stress are occurring at this time,” and over 300 means “a high probability, 80 percent chance, for stress-related illness.”
“I need a calculator,” one man grumbled.


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