BBC News last week reported that 2/3rds of employees are working an additional one-two hours per night at home resulting in an increase in neck problems and repetitive strain injuries.
However taking work home and checking our emails at home on our smart phones and tablets, may be doing a great deal more than just creating increased physiological problems, it also means that we are not allowing our minds to switch off and rest.
The first thing we may notice is that it is becoming more difficult to get off to sleep when we go to bed. This is because our brains are still on a high state of alertness, as our sympathetic nervous system is still activated. When we are at work, more and more people report feeling stressed by increased workloads, bombardment of emails, numerous meetings, telephone calls, chasing targets etc, this causes our sympathetic nervous system which activates fight or flight responses to be activated and it remains activated throughout the day and possibly into the evening if we are taking work home and dealing with emails at home on a regular basis.
Whilst it can be a very good thing to be in a state of alertness, it is important for our well-being that we have frequent periods when our minds can rest and relax, or stand down. In the past we have been able to give our minds time for rest and relaxation by taking regular breaks at work, and at home of an evening. But speaking to many of the people I work with breaks and lunchtimes are now being spent at their desks as they feel they have so much work to do they need to work through their breaks. I think that it is a very sad reflection of the society we exist in when organisations have to enforce rules that employees will take a minimum of 20 minutes for lunch away from their desks.
We spend much of our time striving to achieve the things we need to do at work or home, and just basically surviving that we have very little time left to rest relax and show any form of compassion for ourselves resulting in many of us feeling a lack of contentment with our lives.
In addition to the lack of contentment or depression many people experience, we also often feel tense, irritable, and tired although we find it difficult to sleep when we go to bed.
But it does not stop there, prolonged periods of being in a heightened state of alertness means that we find it harder to be creative, we have difficulty in focusing, we expect too much from others, we are less decisive and more self critical, making work even harder and more stressful. It can easily become a vicious circle, if we do not take stop. These symptoms develop gradually over a period of time and when you are being consumed by them it is often difficult to recognise them in yourself. One of the people being interviewed on the BBC News said, that they were “fine with taking work home each evening”, and I often hear people that are in the grip of prolonged periods of working long hours say that they are fine with it; I myself was one of those people.
So what can we do?
- Make a start by taking regular breaks at work, make use of the time it takes you to make a cup of coffee to relax, stop thinking about your and take a five minute breather
- Ensure you have at least 30 minutes away from your desk and not thinking about work, whilst you have your lunch
- If it is a nice day, take a short walk during your lunch break
- Stop taking work home every night, start by taking one night a week off and then gradually increase it until you are no longer taking work home on a regular occasion
- Turn your smart phone off on an evening or take your work email account off your phone
- If you are finding it hard to complete a task, STOP take a breather and then return to it with a refreshed mind
- Start your meetings with a quiet minute, to allow your mind to rest and relax.