Working hours and mental health

One of the things I worry about, because I suffer from assorted physical issues and poor mental health, is not being able to work like a ‘normal’ person. This can mean pushing harder to try and do at least as much as I think a person in regular employment would do. Whatever that means.

Last autumn I established that I can do 40-50 hour weeks. I sustained that kind of workload for about five months. I watched it undermine my physical health and wipe out my mental health. On reflection, I don’t think is purely because I was fragile to begin with, but because long working hours are detrimental to mental health.

A long day leaves a person with no energy in the evening – or what’s left of it. You can only recover. If you can recover. You can’t do anything much to lift, cheer and sustain yourself. It is difficult being sociable or physically active when you are exhausted. The same thing happens with weekends – if you can take them. Being too tired to do anything much and not even having the energy to try and think of something it might be good to do.

In a counterpoint to this, I’ve seen a few articles floating about online regarding companies who have cut down to four day weeks without cutting pay. Productivity and enthusiasm go up. Sick days are reduced. Happier and more motivated staff turn out to be better workers.

When you are exhausted, it is harder to make good decisions. It is harder to plan for the long term or to take the time to examine your work life balance. Exhaustion as your normal state, is a toxic condition to live with. It sucks the joy out of life and turns everything into a chore that will take energy you can’t afford. Exhaustion makes it harder to engage with others, harder to care and harder to give. When you feel under-resourced, you are more easily persuaded of scarcity and the need to make sure you are protecting yourself from others. Exhaustion makes us easier to control.

When you have energy and time in which to deploy it, you can make more informed life choices. You aren’t just fighting for the next breath or staggering towards the next sleep. People who feel well resourced feel more able to share and give and are less likely to be frightened or persuaded by emotive, unevidenced arguments promoting hatred and division.

As the UK has shuffled towards the brexit cliff edge, I’ve noticed how many people I know are simply exhausted. I hear myself saying ‘just make it stop’, conscious that torture works by getting people to the point where they will do anything, say anything to make it stop. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Exhaustion works in much the same way. We don’t make our best choices when we are exhausted, and when we would do anything to just stop suffering for a little while.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Working hours and mental health

  • bish

    Exhaustion kills, whether it be through illness or error. Being overtired in a hazardous environment – be that a 400kV substation or the M5 at peak flow – can take you in an instant. As for Brexit, I can’t be too tired to fight it. I’ll sleep later.

  • neptunesdolphins

    When people’s worth is defined by productivity i.e. money, then something is seriously out of balance. Is it hypercapitalism – where a few profit from the efforts of the many, or something different. People want socialism or something where they can have free time to sleep and eat.

    People like myself with brain injuries struggle with this issue. In the U.S., people fall between the cracks with their injuries. So many have to work or at least get some income from somewhere. Others are too proud to ask for help with money. What happens is that we all end up exhausted and unable to work. I have government support, and need not work. Even so, I struggle with being useless since I can not earn an income.

  • Jen - Liminal Luminous

    I’ve started my new job and am doing 4 days and one day working from home. I am only paid for 4 days though, it is not a reduced hour thing….but I find that it means that on my working in the office days I have enough time for a gentle and nourshing morning routine of yoga, mediation and prayer, then I get home quite late, so I have dinner, knit a little and then go to bed, on a Tuesday and Thursday anyway. Weds I go to band which is nourshing, but I could only do one night a week.. Then working from home on friday allows me to swim and walk the dog before work, then I have enough of an evening to feel like it is worth it. Then I am able to do stuff on a Saturday, take a sabbath on Sunday and then I have monday to do what I want! So far it is working, I feel like I am me and my energy isn’t being erroded… work have also said that if I feel like coming into the office is too much one day then I can come in later, or work from home. Having an awesome and flexible employer is key. Also, everyone does their hours, not hours +. The owner of the company leads on this, the latest I’ve seenhim leave is 6.15 (hours are 10-6), and the MD works three days a week and again does her hours. This makes a huge difference.. also we don’t have mobiles and we are not expected to look at slack or emails outside of working hours.

  • bestillhawk

    When we moved That’s year I was working a 40hr a week job and was exhausted (granted it was extremely mentally taxing), but I broke. Full on panic attack in the middle of the day. So when we moved I took some time off… after 6 months I decided to ease back in. I’ve been working part time for almost a year now and my mental health is 1000% better!! I was hard on myself, because until that point I prouder myself as being a hard worker. I made my way through college with 3 jobs for heavens sake. But then I realized, I can’t continue to be miserable because my normal has changed.

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