May is Mental Health Month – Laughing the stress away

I’m taking the time from my usual topic areas to talk about mental health.  May is Mental Health Month.  As a staffer working for an association representing mental health professionals, it’s important for me to bring this issue to your attention.  We’re all working towards a healthier lifestyle.  We’re exercising.  We’re trying to eat right.  However, what are we doing to manage our stress?  Are we dealing with it or just wishing it away? 

Chronic stress can affect your physical and mental health by causing a variety of problems including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.  A 2009 poll by the American Psychological Association (my fab association) found that 75 percent of adults report experiencing moderate to high levels of stress and nearly half report that their stress has increased in the past year.  Take a look around your office and realize that over half of your colleagues are probably very stressed at the moment. 

One of the ways I handle stress is to laugh.  Everyday, I find something that to laugh at, whether it’s a funny podcast (I highly recommend the Mike O’Meara Show available as an app or via iTunes) or having a great conversation with a friend.  Whenever I feel stress creeping up on me, I remember a funny situation or my favorite episode of The Simpsons and I can feel the anxiety and tension melt away.  Laughter can really be the best medicine. 

How do you manage stress?  Are you even doing anything about it?  I have one request for anyone reading this and feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges.   Think of the funniest thing you’ve witness either yourself or someone else do and let out a nice, hardy laugh.  Trust me, you’re feel better immediately.

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Where’s the diversity in association government relations?

Without disclosing specifics, I was recently involved in an activity which gave me a snapshot of something I know all too well.  If I was to make assumptions solely based on this activity, I could say with all confidence that if you’re a minority working in an association, you’re probably not the lobbyist.  Now, I know I’m making a sweeping generalization here, but my experiences don’t lie. 

Throughout my career, I have traditionally been the only African-American in the room.  It didn’t matter if I was attending a Democratic or Republican event, I stuck out.  In the first three jobs I held in my association career, I was the first African-American in that position.   I’m the only lobbyist in my DELP class and one of a handful in the 10-year history of the program.  Even within the Washington Government Relations Group, an organization of African-American government relations professionals, association lobbyists make up a small percentage of the membership.

So what’s going on here?  Why are there so few people of color within association government relations?   Why are minority lobbyists not working for associations?  What can I do, as an african american association lobbyist, to help make this career more accessible and desirable?  These are difficult questions to answer.  However, it presents some wonderful opportunities for change.  I’m willing to take on this challenge.  Are you?