I’m not sure when I got into the habit of not taking whole days off very often. Parent to a young child, self employed, then married to an over-worked artist, and struggling with work that required a lot of time and didn’t pay much… there were lots of reasons not to stop. It’s not helped that for a large part of 2014 my other half was working ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks all too often. It’s not easy to stop and chill out when the other person in your life is stuck at the table, hunched over a board and dangerously close to sweating blood. I managed half days off, but it’s not the same.
Since midwinter, I’ve been taking whole days off now and then – one or two in a week. For me, a day off means not switching my computer on. No email, no social networking, no blog (I write them in advance to cover those days). Nothing intellectually demanding. I may spend time on nest maintenance, crafting, I may read a review book, but there the line is drawn. There is, I have noticed, a vast qualitative difference between two half days off, and a whole period between sleeps when I’m not working. It’s like a reset button for my brain, and the impact on stress and mood is huge.
It is an odd feature of contemporary culture that we’re encouraged to spend our time off being just as over-stimulated as we are when working. If you’re sat in front of the television with your social media feed on your phone (and I think a lot of people are, based on how they post) the information coming at you is considerable. There is no rest when you’re processing that much. It’s also hard to go from that kind of over-stimulated over-thinking to peaceful sleep.
Sleep deprivation leads to weight gain. It’s a clearly established but under discussed issue. We have an obesity epidemic, in which no one is talking about sleeping, nor about how our culture impacts on sleeping. But then, no one makes any money out of us when we’re peacefully unconscious.
I’ve had to spend a lot of time getting things badly wrong to properly understand why getting it right is so important. I’ve watched my usually sharp mind become truly blunt, I’ve watched my once excellent energy levels become unpredictable, and often very poor. I’ve watched my mental health degenerate. All of these things locked me down into fear and it seemed like the only way out was to try harder, do more. It’s very hard, when you’re mired in that way to see stopping as anything other than very dangerous and bound to make things worse.
I’m sleeping better. I’m in less pain. My moods are more stable, and my thinking is a good deal clearer. I’m having more and better ideas. And yet our politicians bang on about the virtue of hard work and keep telling us that hard work alone is what it takes to lift people out of poverty. Maybe this is not an accident. Maybe they know perfectly well that over-stimulated, over worked people are more readily persuaded to keep running round in the same little circles, going nowhere. If we stop, we might have time to think, and if we think, we might question and if we question it might occur to us that we’re mostly running round in little circles for someone else’s benefit, or no benefit at all. And then what would we do?