In our fast-paced society, leisure often gets a bad rap. Working long hours and being productive is glorified, regardless of the quality of work. Although self-care, too, is a fairly new buzzword, too often it is something that is squeezed into busy schedules to try to counteract the long hours of work and increased stress that are pervasive in contemporary society. We may rise early to go to the gym or take a yoga class on lunch break during a typical workday. While there are benefits to squeezing in self-care, it can also contribute to the busyness of life when forced into one’s calendar.
When someone seeks to slow down, place boundaries around their work, or even take a more leisurely pace during the workday, they may be labeled as “slow,” “lazy,” or “unproductive.” It is valuable to have a good work ethic, but a work ethic is often confused with working ourselves to the point of doing psychological and physical damage. In truth, the hours of work and levels of stress people are encouraged to carry in contemporary society are contributing to what may become a physical and mental health crisis.
The High Costs of Working Too Much
Working too much has consequences for oneself, one’s family, and one’s work (Alarcon, 2011). It can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, family conflict, difficulty concentrating, and decreased productivity, among other challenges. In addition to the psychological difficulties, burnout has been connected with physical health issues, including an increased risk of cardiovascular problems (Toppinen-Tanner, Ahola, Koskinen, & Väänänen, 2009). This is not a small price.
The Benefits of Leisure
Leisure, on the other hand, has many benefits. Besides enjoyment, the most obvious benefit is that leisure allows our bodies to recover from the stress and activity of daily life. Leisure also provides time to reflect and think through what is happening in our lives. In my therapy practice, I find people often make comments such as, “I have not had time to think about it” or “I have wanted to find time to consider that.” Many people’s lives have become so busy that they do not have time to think about their life!
A slower pace allows for people to consider ideas and decisions more thoughtfully. It allows for creativity, including discovering creative solutions to one’s challenges.
Berg and Seeber (2016) maintain there are many benefits to attaining a slower pace in life. Although they write primarily about professors and academics, many of their ideas are relevant for those outside of university settings. A slower pace allows for people to consider ideas and decisions more thoughtfully. It allows for creativity, including discovering creative solutions to one’s challenges. It allows for people to find meaning in what is occurring in their life. Finally, it allows people to be more intentional in the choices they make.
Individuals who do not take time to think through their life often feel disconnected from themselves and those around them. This, in part, is because there is not time to make meaning from their lives. Irvin Yalom (1980) notes that people are meaning-seeking creatures by nature. In other words, we have a basic need to find meaning and to make sense of our lives. Leisure and reflection are essential to finding and engaging meaning.
It often is not easy to choose a more leisurely pace in life. For many, employers are requiring longer hours and justifying this as a necessity. Others need to work longer hours or more than one job to meet financial obligations. In these cases, it may be necessary to utilize self-care strategies, including making the most of the leisure time that is available. However, for others, busyness is a lifestyle choice that has become a habit or even an addiction. Many people have become so used to working that they experience anxiety or guilt when they slow down, which often is part of an addictive pattern. Even children and teenagers are often thrust into a schedule that allows for little time to rest. They need to be taught the value of including and embracing some slower periods in life.
The needed change is not just a personal one, but a social one. The costs of living an overly busy lifestyle need to be recognized alongside the benefits of cultivating periods of rest. We need to change the script about leisure as lazy or unproductive and, instead, recognize its value.
- Alarcon, G. M. (2011). A meta-analysis of burnout with job demands, resources, and attitudes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79, 549-562.
- Berg, M., & Seeber, B. K., (2016). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
- Toppinen-Tanner, S., Ahola, K., Koskinen, A., & Väänänen, A. (2009). Burnout predicts hospitalization for mental and cardiovascular disorders: 10-year prospective results from industrial sector. Stress and Health, 25, 287-296.
- Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York, NY: Basic Books.
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