Humans, clearly, are not built for stress: our immune systems pack in, we get headaches, our sex drives die, we toe the line constantly between nervous breakdowns and angry rages for as long as the difficulties continue and our hair falls out. If the stress is particularly bad, you might even die of cancer, as many hospital patients have found out as they returned to the beds months after discharge, bringing their own nightmares to life.
According to our good friend the British Government, there were 400,000 cases of stress or anxiety in UK workplaces alone in 2014, with close to 10 million working days lost. If I can conjure up some old statistics locked away in my head from years ago, that’s enough to build 24 Los-Angelas-class submarines, and I can tell you for a fact that it’s well over ten times the number of working days lost to strike action in 2014 — strike action, ten times.
400,000 people had to call off work because they were worrying too much, with too much pressure on them, tearing out what little hair didn’t quite make it to the floor of the bath as they despair over their budget sheets, or the massive stack of papers their manager has assured them will destroy the world if it is not all read, signed and filled out within five minutes of it being issued, their libidos dead, their beards as long as this sentence.
Clearly, there is a massive problem here, and something within me makes me doubtful the situation is any better overseas. I know, for I have been gazing ominously at my own forehead, too.
I awoke today at the ungodly hour of 6 O’clock (I understand this has become normal for many, but that makes it no less ungodly), had to be up and dressed ten minutes later, breakfasted twenty after that, doing a little essential work from home a little after that and in transit in time for the morning rush hour by 7. Note the words “had to be” — I failed, spectacularly. Motivating myself out of bed, into my clothes and down the stairs took almost twice as long as expected, and sapped my energy enough to make me want to really enjoy making and eating my breakfast; the essential work I had told myself I would not neglect was not even attempted until ten minutes before I had to leave and even then my brain barely worked and nothing of consequence was done; despite leaving just on time and really going like hell to not be late, I had misjudged the distance I knew and had travelled already for years, so tight was my timeframe.
See, doing all of those things in that time was physically possible, yes, but not for me. I am a human, not a robot. I am not an inherently efficient being. I have emotions and whims and I want to enjoy life instead of cruising through it on time, even when I don’t want to want to. The mass corporatism we all live in demands we become faceless automatons to arrive on time and churn out bland product after bland product, and bring one with us as well, just for extra efficiency; be it an idea, a plastic cup, a presentation or a document — it matters not, for we are all linked in what is expected of us.
It isn’t just capitalism’s fault, either: it’s to do with our psyche. We really want to transcend nature, be better than it, put our bodies in place and become something better. We have quotas for how many books we want to read, for long we will spend watching television, what we eat, what we drink, how we live. We’ve convinced ourselves that, even though we like to kick back and relax on the weekends, it is beyond important that we don’t, and devote some hours to doing something “more useful” instead. Then, we must suspend our emotions for the other two-thirds of the week and sit for hours upon hours behind desks, pushing buttons, trying to focus — and we can’t. We get fidgety when relaxing, like there’s something more useful we could be doing with our time; we buy electronic gadgets to make the day go faster and improve our efficiency. The reason we get up so early in the morning isn’t because we have to get to work in the morning: it’s because we want to. We are the ones who created this environment that enslaves us to its timetable; however much you like to grumble about how early you have to get up in the morning, would you change it if you could? And our failure to suspend humanity makes us stressed.
“Burn the system! Destroy the corporations! Anarchy!” No. I’m not saying that. Satisfying necessity wherever we need to is what has made us thrive as a species, and I would be very worried if the entire world slept in one week. What I’m saying is that we should stop worshipping schedules and quotas and timetables, and trying to transition into robots — we’re not suited to it, as the 10 million lost working days proves. When was the last time the ground cracked open and locusts spilled out because you forgot about that spreadsheet? Genuine question. How much money did the company lose? More interestingly, I think, how much more do you think you could have done, had you felt the pressure of working less? How shoddy was that science homework because you felt you had to get it done so quickly? Why did it really need to be in that day? How much more productive would we all be if we waited to come around to the idea of doing a task more naturally, instead of commanding our biology to get in line? Maybe that wasn’t an available luxury back when we had to go and hit other tribesmen with shorter beards than us over the head with bits of tree and steal their women, but the nice thing about globalisation is, well, problems are globalised. Ten digits of people solving single problems is more effective than single people solving ten digits of problems, and we can all afford to take some time off.
Look, I’m not saying that any single person should go out and do anything, because you’ll probably get the sack and lose your house and your family; but, as a collective, it makes a sick kind of sense that a lot of these working hours we force ourselves to endure are not coming to fruition, and the 240 million lost in one country in one year to stress is I’m sure a massive underestimate. I’m sure that by not trying to work as hard we could easily work more. So, I propose that, as a collective, a group, we do exactly what we’ve done for centuries every day. But — and here’s the clincher — we don’t pretend to be able to do any better, and we don’t flagellate ourselves for being human. That way, when you stop on the road to look at a flower, you don’t have to feel guilty, and maybe you can make some more plastic cups.