It’s now exactly 30 years since classic 80s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off gave us the immortal line, “Life moves pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it” – but it seems few of us, even now, are paying any attention.
Although statistics show that, on average, New Zealanders are working fewer hours per week than in the past, we have developed a busy-ness culture that means many of us feel guilty if we’re not being productive.
This in turn means that when we’re truly feeling burnt out or over-stressed by our workloads, we’re unable to truly cut back and relax – instead, feeling some compulsion to fill our spare time with meaningful activities.
The issue is that burn-out actually requires attention precisely because that overwhelming exhaustion is accompanied by a relentless need to plough on. In other words, the one thing burn-out removes is the ability to relax.
When the stresses of everyday life events – things like a death of a loved one or divorce – lead to exhaustion, it is important to cut back on working hours to give time to more mindful practices so you can try to find more fulfilling ways to relax and look after your mental health.
But when the stress comes precisely from the fear of not being able to cope with long work hours or the commitment required from a tough profession, then cutting back on hours is likely to add to your anxiety rather than solve it.
In a recent online article, psychoanalyst and writer Josh Cohen describes how therapy can play a big part in helping those who feel burnt out but are unable to relax. His major points are:
- The simple action of sitting of lying down and talking “with no particular agenda” during therapy removes someone who feels burnt out from that “enslavement to an endless to-do list packed with short and long-range tasks”.
- Identifying elements in a client’s history and character that can leave them vulnerable to pressure and burn-out helps them challenge those ways of thinking.
Burn-out can be so wrapped up in feelings of shame, expectations and assumptions that seeking professional therapy becomes useful in being able to peel back those emotions to reveal why we feel so physically overwhelmed.
It’s often only once those internalised issues have been dealt with that we’re then able to see the truth behind Ferris Bueller’s exhortation to “stop and look around for a while” – that being able to relax and take time out is a vital part of being healthy and productive.