2020 has been a challenging year to say the least, and above all there have been a number of realities that have been exposed, as well as the hard lessons to go with them.
When restrictions about essential workers came into effect limiting the vast majority of workers from travelling and working at their places of employment – for many people the dream of working from home became an overnight reality.
However despite many people now having the flexibility to ‘get the work done’ without constant oversight, there were also a number of unforeseen complications to came to light.
For families, parents had to juggle their professional obligations alongside children who were learning remotely.
Spare spaces at home had to become functional work spaces that they weren’t designed for, distractions were and are plenty and routines we’re thrown out the door.
As a side hustler – this was and has been my reality. The change between the commuting regime to the work from home routine has been … challenging to say the least, a challenge that now after 6 months I think I’m finally getting on top of.
After regularly spending hours in the car each and every day, battling traffic, working from home was a welcome change. Early into the lock down experts warned us about the potential threats to mental health and I for one thought I was solid as a rock.
6 months on … I know that I have not been, and I’ve known for months. I Haven’t been okay.
In a word. I’m ******* exhausted. I mean I’m absolutely ******* trashed. Tired doesn’t describe how ‘I feel’.
Isolation isn’t just a matter of stopping a global pandemic, it’s the best way to lose perspective, and get lost in your own issues. In the grand scheme of things I know I’m okay, and I’m lucky, but touching base with other people, I’m not the only one who feels like I do.
In the white collar workspace, working from home, means no traffic, virtually no labour … no physical stress. Yet I’ve never felt more drained.
The signs of fatigue, exhaustion and burnout.
Turns out that I’m not the only one. In fact it turns out this isn’t abnormal either.
White collar workers are drained. So the question is how does it happen, and most importantly how to recognise the signs that things are … changing. Considering I’ve never been so physically ‘inactive’, I don’t find it surprising that inactivity causes problems.
Spending entire days sitting in a seat or on the couch does amazing things for sending your physical fitness backwards.
And the worst part is that after a day of sitting at a desk, all I ever want is to rest. “Hello couch!“
In fact going for a walk is a remarkably draining activity when it’s the upper limit of what your body is used to, but I digress.
What to look for.
Turns out there’s a myriad of warning signs your body sends out when you’re not you. The feelings of: more stress (acute), resorting to stimulants, heightened irritability, lower (non-existent) tolerance levels, are … in reflection some of the early signs.
Breaks in routine are next, Procrastination and avoidance, reduction of interest in regular activities or mental breaks, reduction in the quality of nutrition (hello takeaway), difficulty in getting to sleep, are some of the escalating signs before things start to get serious …
Anxiety (constantly being switched on), not taking breaks, a constant sense of being drained and unable to recover despite a lack of higher productivity, degradation of relationships, disconnection from other prior interests, and total loss of motivation are some things that are very hard to ignore.
And finally at total burnout, there is the total and complete loss of motivation, the feeling of detachment, the thoughts of resignation and escape, because doing ‘nothing’ is better than what is happening now, depression and the physical aspects of getting sick, for basically … no reason, are when the stress gauge is deep in the ‘Red Zone’ and you’re all but ready to give up and simply … fall over.
It’s hard to believe or reconcile that many of these things have happened during a time, when they are the last things you should ever be subject to or expect.
Related: Why Money for time is a poor trade
The difference between physical and mental stress
It can be astounding and completely counter-intuitive to think that any or most of these things can happen to a single person in the space of a few months … but it can, and has.
The funny thing being is – I know that ‘things’ have been ‘harder’.
How so? Back in the younger years, it wasn’t uncommon between 2 jobs to go back-to-back for 19 or 21 days at a time. Between some peers, racking up and talking about mammoth work stretches like this was a bit of a badge of honour.
But here is the difference. Different work, yields different types of stresses.
Physical stress (manual labour or labour intense work) is actually easier to recover from. As long as the body isn’t injured, and as long as its fed and rested, the body can quickly reach a point of equilibrium, between the stress of work, and a recovery point where it can sustain the effort. Treat it right, and the body can perform … day after day. This I can attest to.
Mental Stress however is another animal. Constant focus, readiness, attention … the need to be switched on not only takes a toll, but the toll has been found to be 3 x higher than physical stress over the same time period.
That means, mental recovery is more important than physical! Make no mistake physical and mental stress can trigger and effect other aspects of your health, but recovery from mental stress requires more attention than eating and sleeping for your body.
The need for boundaries, escapes and recovery.
Telling someone they need time to recover is like telling an addict their addiction is bad. Generally speaking people know when they need to wind down.
Physically dominated work provides a pretty clear boundary between work and home life. After all it’s hard to take a work site, warehouse, or assembly station home with you after you drop the tools.
Mental dominated work … has a tendency to travel. Even pre pandemic it’s not uncommon for sales workers to take the stress of an angry customer home with them. Over worked staff login earlier and log off later just to give themselves ‘distraction free’ time from other staff members.
Working from home … being 14 steps away from a global video conference, provides an easy trap to fall into. I’ve seen unfair expectations this year, as both clients and employees schedule conference calls which leaves ‘someone’ online at 2am in the morning local time … chased by an expectation to be available by 9am later.
Sometimes this might have to happen, and I hear the cries of those who work 3 jobs to make ends meet telling me that this is a dream, and stop complaining.
The point here is that for many people, working from home, and the added weights that come with it, have completely eroded the natural boundaries that once existed between work and home life.
With those boundaries gone, mental pressures have risen and balance needs to be restored in a feasible way.
This is the not the time I say to back off coffee, eat right … be mindful. That’s a load of ****. Coffee is awesome, food is convenient, and I’m mindful of every annoyance out there!
Sometimes you need to tell people ‘**** off’, ‘Shut the **** up’ or ‘Not ******* now’, and walk away. Work doesn’t go away. It’ll be there tomorrow. At the end of the day …. Switch off. Log off.
Over the last few months every single notification on my phone is off. My day is already saturated with phones, chats, emails (oh the email), instant messenger … and probably 3 other platforms I use.
At a certain point, enough has to be enough and the lines of communication have to be turned off. Boundaries need to be set, and there has to be an escape for recovery.
In isolation, nutrition, sleep, and mindfulness just don’t and haven’t worked for me.
First person Shooters, and racing sims have. They’re my temporary escape plan. A complete switch to survival or looking for a faster lap time, are complete and total distractions that get me disengaged from work and the stresses that come with it.
So what if it’s different to what the ‘experts’ recommend. It works for me, find something that works for you.
There are reasons why big shot Executives and moguls, fly away to their tropical islands for weeks at a time. The media loves to show them off as insensitive and decadent.
When they take the family and drop off the face of the earth, it’s not because they can afford to. It’s not because they want to rub it in on the rest of us.
Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a billionaire empire owner in the trenches with the troops? Never. Why? Because they’re focused on what happens tomorrow. They’re focused on protecting themselves and those that work for them. They are constantly ‘On’.
Why do they disappear for weeks at a time?
It’s because they have to – for everyone’s sake.
Related: Is having a Success Dream selfish?