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Flying pigs need their rest

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2003

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

We get helpful little pamphlets and handouts at work sometimes to help us with our wellness. I really appreciate getting them because I forget to think about my well being. I forget to stop for lunch and forget to go home at quitting time, too, but that's a specific paying-attention problem, not the whole wellness picture. Today's handout - actually, could have been a few days ago, I forget to check my mailbox - is about how to deal with stress.

The handout is really just a simple list of things to do to keep stress at bay or in the basement or in the grip of whatever devise a person needs to keep out of the grip of stress. The list starts with "Get enough sleep," goes on to "Take a vigorous 30-minute walk," advises us to "Befriend a non-worrier," and winds up with a few other things, the most appealing of which is, "Laugh." What strikes me about the list is how selfish it is. There are no suggestions for activities that help others or perform any kind of public service. You would think there could be at least one item on a list that benefits someone else, too. I always seem to be happiest when I have my day organized, have something fun to look forward to and can do something for someone else. Well, hey, I thought, it's not my list and these guys are professionals.

I can easily laugh a hundred times a day, sleep well several nights a week, get in a good walk now and then, but the non-worrying friend is tough one. I can't recall ever setting out to befriend a particular kind of person, but if I wanted to, where would I find a non-worrier? I probably wouldn't meet him or her in line for extra life insurance, feeling a little anxious and wanting to strike up a conversation with a stranger. He or she wouldn't approach me in the produce section of the market to ask if I knew what country the bananas were from and which deadly pesticides are used there. No, the people I commonly forge lifelong friendships with are people who share deep, nagging dread with me. They have so much to talk about and sometimes I can help with a problem. Since I don't often worry myself, I kind of enjoy the emotional commitment shared by a good worrier. It never occurred to me that I was at risk for worry spillover.

Now that I think about it, my use of laughter in the workplace, like my choice of friends, may not be therapeutically correct. Just last week, I finally removed from its colorful box and installed a flying pig (a gift) over my desk. I measured the line it hangs from carefully so I wouldn't get whacked in the head (a wellness measure) as it whizzed around in giddy flight. As soon as I switched it on and stood back, I laughed. When it just hung there flapping like mad rather than flying in a circle, I laughed more. See, it's a pig, and ... well, I can see myself laughing at/under it several times a day for months. Is that good laughter or bad laughter? I think it's supposed to be a shared experience. The pig wasn't laughing.

Stress is serious stuff, I know that, so I sat down with the pamphlet under the flapping pig to concentrate on making my own list of action items for my personal stress relief. The whooshing little wings were very soothing. It's possible that I dozed off for a moment. In any case, when I looked down at my desk there was a list scrawled in crude writing on my notebook. "Set an alarm for lunch and going home times. Leave your car keys in your mailbox. Go on vacation. Teach the pig to fly."

There were several arrows criss-crossing in front of the last two tasks, like the writer had been unsure of the priority. I studied the list a moment and the correct order came to me with a wave of euphoric calm. I reached up and gently switched the pig off. Get some rest, I said, we have a big day tomorrow.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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