Surviving the Recession

My wife Linda works in the Renal Ward at the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. Her job demands an early start and 12 hour days. Fortunately, she is able to take several rest periods during the day and has an irregular work week to balance the total number of hours worked.  Because of her schedule, it is common for both of us to rise at 5:00 in the morning, which is early, but does allow me to get on the road by 6:00 am. As many of you also experience, the daily drive to and from Oakville to downtown Toronto is frustrating. Getting an early morning start is very beneficial to managing the associated stress. During one morning drive, I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed a couple in the car behind me. He was driving. She was in a different position. With her head falling back and to one side, her mouth open, and her eyes tightly shut, she seemed to have passed out. As he drove, her head bobbed back and forth and sideways, but she did not wake. He regularly looked at her and seemed in amazement at her state. As I watched this (the traffic was stop-and–go, so this provided a good distraction) the question was obvious. What caused her to be so tired that she needed to sleep on the way to work?

Many answers to that question went through my mind:

-maybe they came back late from a trip the night before?

-maybe they have kids which kept her up all night?

-maybe they were out partying and didn’t get home until late?

-maybe certain drivers of stress (financial; health; family; career) prevented a good night’s sleep?

-maybe her mother-in-law was visiting?

-maybe they had an argument the night before?

-why wasn’t he equally as tired (but perhaps he was her driver)?

-how will she get her work done during the day for her employer if she is so tired?

-how will she restore her health with some or all of the above factors affecting her?

The word “recession” is derived from the word “recess” which simply means “break”. When I was in public school, as kids we regularly had a “recess” from teaching and school work. As an employer and an employee, we offer and enjoy a regular “recess” (we call them coffee breaks) in the morning and afternoon to restore our energy. When we think about the current economic climate, it seems as if an “economic recess” was demanded and called! We have witnessed corporate and consumer spending taking a break. The credit markets were stressed and called a “time out”. Globally, we burned ourselves out financially and after that occurred additional resources were called in the form of government spending to keep the economic wheels turning. Burnout is a common event for many of us. There are warning signs. But how many of us recognize them or even if we do, do we respect the warning given.

You Deserve a Break Today

McDonald’s made that slogan famous. But its message is as old as time itself. The biblical story of creation tells us that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and then on the seventh day, He rested (I figure if an omnipotent God needed a rest, then think about how much more a mortal human requires one). As a result, Moses enacted the Sabbath which the Jews observe. Christians claimed Sunday as their day apart. The Muslims have claimed Friday as their day of rest. When I worked in the Middle East for a few years, it was always a challenge to match employer days between the east and west societies because of the “days of rest” each claimed. 

But then I wonder what we do on that supposedly “day of rest”. We unfortunately fill it with housework, yard work, children’s activities, shopping, and other such chores. I grew up in a very religious home. Sundays were “church days”. We went to church in the morning; Sunday school in the afternoon and then church again in the evening. In between we had meals to prepare. Sunday became a very tiring day instead of its intended “day of rest”. When do we really separate ourselves from this crazy roller coaster of life that we are on, call a recess and say “I deserve a break today?”

Working long hours every day, every week and not taking a vacation (i.e. recess) is a behaviour that many of us have developed because of employer expectations, competitiveness, sense of self importance, and for some a “martyr” complex. But such behaviour is not sustainable. It results in high levels of stress that eventually leads us to burnout. Many theories of burnout include negative outcomes related to burnout, including job function (performance, output, etc.); health related outcomes (increases in stress hormones, coronary heart disease, circulatory issues), and mental health problems (depression, etc.).

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, spiritual and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and are unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. 

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give. 

Most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated; when the dozen balls we keep in the air aren’t noticed, let alone rewarded; when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this most of the time, however, you may be flirting with burnout.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day. 
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy. 
  • You’re exhausted all the time. 
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming. 
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated. 

The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life – including your home and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.

I encourage you to call a recess and take some time just for yourself. 

We will not have survived this recession if we have not learned its lesson. Excessive indulgence leads to disaster! There are warning signs. We need to hear them and heed them....before it’s too late!

As the short Canadian summer presents itself to us, take a break... you deserve it. Set aside some time just for you. Separate yourself from life’s craziness and restore your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self. Don’t let anyone or anything rob you of something you so greatly need and deserve. Then make it a habit so that taking a “recess” becomes a part of your routine. 

By doing so, coping with life’s challenges will be easier and enjoying life’s beauty will be more fulfilling.

Have a great summer recess!