Lindsay Alissa King
Rethinking the Boom-or-Bust Cycle of Stress and Relief
Do you find yourself pushing through most work days under a burden of extreme stress, punctuated only by infrequent vacations and episodic “self care”? I know I do.
I love my job, but I still find that I’m often operating under high stress most of the time. I take vacations, but I often find my myself coming back from vacations with the assumption that I’ll move right back into high-stress mode until the next holiday or until my next day off. It’s a relentless cycle of exhaustion, with random periods of unplugged self care. More often than not, at the end of a vacation, I find myself thinking:
You’d better work hard for the next few weeks. You’ve given yourself enough time of so it’s time to make up for it by working at a break-neck pace. You don’t deserve anymore rest.
Buying into this boom-or-bust, spasmodic mode of existence directly feeds an ideology that prioritizes profit over people and money over health.
I say this while admitting very freely that this kind of work cycle has defined by professional life. I’m great at taking vacations, but I’ve often worked through crushing stress that has me sleeping too few hours, staring at a screen for too long, and denying my brain important opportunities to think creatively. In fact, after a long day of work and child care, here I am writing this blog post at 9:32 pm!
Needing some sleep, stat!
To tell ourselves that we only “deserve” rest on infrequent vacations or (if we’re generous) on weekends plays right into the hands of capitalism. The belief that vacations are valuable simply because they rejuvenate us for working life is exactly what we’re supposed to think as participants in an unjust system.
As with every issue, this problem is only compounded for working-class individuals, the majority of whom are BIPOC in this country. Many working-class individuals can only make ends meet by working multiple jobs or by working around the clock. Time off is practically mythical. Yet many people believe that it is laziness or lack of motivation that prevents them from earning more money – and consequently, so this belief goes, working-class individuals “don’t deserve” or “don’t need” regular, daily periods of rest and refreshment. An occasional day off should suffice.
We all have to reject this mode of existence. Vacations should offer a chance for new experiences, but they should not be the only form of self care we deserve. Rest and refreshment should be daily practices, looped into our daily schedules and built into the ways that we feed, fuel, and regenerate our bodies.
Likewise, we need to stop thinking about “self care” as primarily expensive, episodic, and characterized by the practices of the elite (say, Instagram influencers). Sure, those kinds of opportunities are fun, on occasion. But we need to be taking care of our minds and brains practices that have been proven by history and science to be forms of self-protection: sleep, movement, sunshine, healthy foods. If you’re an employer, you need to cultivate a workplace culture that allows your employees to protect their wellbeing in this way.
I’ve got more to say on this, especially as it pertains to remote workers. Expect a follow-up soon, after I’ve had a couple of good sleeps!