anxiety mental health Mental Health Mondays psychology wellbeing writing

Mental Health Mondays – 6. The guilt of doing nothing

“Il dolce far niente” Italians infamously say. The sweetness of doing nothing, the ability to completely and utterly enjoy and savour each moment, the pleasure of being idle.

Why and how have we lost this ability to enjoy our free time? Why do we feel guilty about it instead? I had this very discussion with my wonderful friend and kindred spirit Marithea a few days ago, whilst catching up after almost a year. ‘I have an idea, why don’t you write about it on your next blog?’ she suggested and it couldn’t come at a better time.

I’ve taken two weeks off work to relax, rest and recharge before the September madness and I think I managed to do that for just one or two days. I spent the rest of the time doing everything else, shopping, going to a pottery workshop, catching up with friends, a few days away with my crazy family and a lot of thinking about my next career step, as well as feeling guilty I haven’t made any videos or written anything in a while. I barely made time to read, write, play the guitar, or just sit and listen to music.

Even when I try to relax some weekday evenings, after a long and busy day at work, I feel guilty. I feel this deeply rooted shame for my inability to read a book or stare at a screen again after more than 8 hours of screen time, or even have clear thoughts and make sensible decisions about anything.

Why is that? It’s what’s commonly known as productivity anxiety. We humans have the innate obsession to get things done and be creative ALL the time, something we all struggled with during the pandemic when our options were severely limited. Surely, as soon as we could get out, most of us got even more obsessed with being productive, which is incredibly unhealthy. Our bodies and brains need rest and idle time, to be able to function fully and correctly.

Maybe the 8 hours of work, sleep and play model of the First Industrial Revolution was an improvement on the 12-14 hour day shifts, but none of us really works for just 8 hours a day. Most people work for 9-10 hours a day taking into account commuting and lunch break. By the time you get home, cook, clean and prepare for the following day, (unless you are one of the lucky ones who have help or someone else does the house chores for you) that’s it, the day is over and your brain is already overheating.

We need to learn to make time to rest and have fun, our whole life can’t be just work. And workplaces should accommodate human needs to the highest degree possible. We need to work to live, not live to work, otherwise what’s even the point? Retired old and exhausted at the age of 65 (if it doesn’t get higher by the time I retire), desperately trying to squeeze as many life experiences and joy as possible in the few years I have left? No, thank you.

So, I’m going to try harder to make time for rest and relaxation. How do you manage your free time?

Eleni

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