Monday, January 24, 2011

Work Stress

Being a librarian involves a lot of things. But it doesn't involve long peaceful hours sitting at a mahogany table, a beam of sunlight with dust motes adrift in it shining on a novel's open pages.

This is an example of what it does involve. A cranky old man on the precipice that is dementia approaches you on a service desk that's as busy as a bus station at rush hour. He wants to know whom to contact at Wikipedia in order to get some archival material he has into the online encyclopedia's entry for a famous documentary photographer. He doesn't say please or thank you. He doesn't listen to you when you try to explain that Wikipedia doesn't have a contact person, that he needs to create an account and do the editing and adding himself. He keeps at you for 15 minutes, repeating the same question and listing his credentials. You feel every ounce of patience and compassion you might have possessed ebbing away. Your heart and head have it backwards, because your head knows you should feel sorry for him, but your heart is all out of pity.

Later, your boss tells you gently that it looks like you have "public service desk burnout." You know it's true. You don't know what to do about it because you are paid to serve on a public desk.

It is absolutely true that not every encounter with a patron is that negative. But some of them are, and cumulatively they sap your energy, your optimism, and your idealism. You don't like yourself or the people you're supposed to be helping. You long for the beam of light on the book, even though you know well that isn't reality.

So what to do? interval workout.

Interval workouts, also known as speed sessions, are often done on a track (though I do most of mine on a treadmill due to a dearth of nearby tracks open early). Intervals in my half-marathon program range from 200 meters to 2 miles and are done much faster than my other runs. The bad thing: short as they are, they are so hard they can seem eternal when you're in the middle of one, even when Darude's "Sandstorm" is playing on the iPod.

But intervals have two things going for them. One: you get to recover with walking and slow running between each, so you always know a break is just minutes at most away. And two: they are the *best* kind of workout for dealing with work stress, or any stress. It's easy to imagine that you're flying away from your problems, or beating them into submission with each swift footfall. You feel anger evaporating along with the sweat and heat of your muscles.

I had a rough time at work on Sunday. But tomorrow morning I have an interval workout: one mile at 7:37; two miles at 8:00; and 2x800 at 7:25. Better than antidepressants. Just what the doctor ordered.


  1. Intervals are the only thing that ever improved my speed. Keep up the hard work, Terzah!

  2. I feel your pain. The public sucks. I love when people throw around their credentials like it actually means anything to you or solving their problem.

  3. Great post, Terzah. I know exactly what you mean.

  4. Steve, it was a great workout this morning. I felt much better. And the nap I took afterwards helped too (didn't have to be at work until noon). Jessica, there's nothing worse than someone who brandishes their PhD at me, like that makes me want to overlook rude behavior. Thanks, Dan! I know you feel the pain.

  5. Oh, yikes. Sorry about the old man encounter. Glad you could channel it into a good run at least.