Tom Ross: Anyone know where I can get a stress monkey costume?

This Halloween, make a pledge to yourself -- lead a life of serenity

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The decision about this year's Halloween costume was a difficult one. At age 52, some things are ruled out -- besides, I've been a pirate before. I could dress up as Bruce Willis or Jack Nicholson, or maybe as Steve Martin. But only Nicholson is truly scary, and I couldn't imagine myself running around the downtown Steamboat candy crawl, with my hair disheveled and yelling, "Heeeere's Johnny!" Besides, my wife says I'm too old for trick or treating.

At the last minute this autumn, I received some unexpected Halloween costume inspiration. A guest speaker named Craig Zablocki stopped by the newspaper office to cheer us up after we spent 90 minutes in a group encounter session. We were talking about how to deal with people who are upset with the way we do our jobs.

This might come as a surprise to many of you, but some people become truly agitated about the news items we publish in the paper. We are fortunate to receive many thoughtful compliments from our readers, but occasionally, someone gets really torqued at us, and that's his or her right. After all, we dish some heat, so we've got to be able to stand up and feel the heat.

Zablocki is a motivational speaker who makes his points with comedy. He's convinced that most adults create their own stress by worrying about things that are already in the past, and other things that are beyond their control. If you want to learn all about life, Zablocki says, watch a 4-year-old at play. They are caught up in the moment, indulge in creative and imaginative play and laugh frequently. Most adults have forgotten how to do these things.

If an unpleasant event intrudes on the life of a 4-year-old, he or she is most apt to shed a few tears and forget about it, Zablocki says. Adults, on the other hand, hang onto unpleasant events and lie awake at night for months watching slow motion instant replays in their minds. That tendency to hang onto resentment and anxiety prevents us from going out and leading the lives we should be leading.

When you think about it, you quickly realize that newspaper people have the opportunity to commit several thousand errors a week, and all of them are public. After decades of discipline and diligence, I have cut my weekly errors down to about 500. But I still wake up at 4 a.m. many mornings; worrying that I may have misused a semicolon in my latest news story. After listening to Zablocki speak, I knew who I wanted to be for Halloween -- a stress monkey! I'll save a bunch of money on my costume -- I can show up for the big Halloween party in the same Haggar, wrinkle resistant khakis and button down Oxford shirts I always wear.

You might be curious about the derivation of the term, "stress monkey," which connotes someone who is letting work get the better of them. In fact, it comes from scientific research done on monkeys to measure the effects of stress on primates, which can, in turn, be related to human experience. During recent experiments at the University of Odensa, psychologists created a mock newsroom and seated 12 rhesus monkeys at comfortable office cubicles. The subjects were each given 40 minutes to write a news article. Most of the monkeys were up to the task, but what they could not have known was that their computers were rigged to lock up at 23 minutes and again at 36 minutes. By the end of the exercise, several of the primates were exhibiting antisocial behavior.

If you are feeling tense this Halloween, here are some stress reducers to stick in your trick or treat bag:

n Remember to unplug your telephone during the week before the November elections

n Quiet your self-critical inner voice, which is always focusing on what you perceive to be your inadequacies. In my case, my right ear is higher than my left ear, and I'm terribly self conscious about it. In reality, Ken and Jane, down at the Family Barbershop, are the only ones who have direct knowledge of my affliction -- they are the ones who struggle to even out my sideburns during my bimonthly haircuts. It must be hell for them. In my mind, I know people are staring at me, but I can't afford the operation just yet.

n Hike up Emerald Mountain at least twice a week

n Leave for work 20 minutes earlier than necessary, and drive the speed limit

n Watch only the first half of Denver Broncos games -- avoid watching the second half

n Upon arriving home in the evening, always leave your car keys, watch, eyeglasses, cell phone and billfold (purse) in a basket at the top of the stairs. This way, you will be less likely to run frantically around the house in search of them in the morning -- as long as the burglars don't run off with the entire basket

n Purchase a day planner which provides space for setting goals and priorities such as -- moving to Steamboat Springs and leading a stress-free existence in a funky mountain town.

Always remember -- stress is where you find it. You can choose to lead a serene life.

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