For most of my life I had been contented with the belief that fatigue was entirely exclusive to physical fatigue. It seemed to be all about getting proper sleep, exercising and replenishing nutrients.
In my reading of Bertrand Russell, it would seem that physical fatigue is a cause of happiness. No, I’m not too thrilled when I have to wake up before the sun rises and require several coffees before I’m at full alert, but the theory is that this tiredness is what brings you soundly back to sleep, for example.
In his analysis of fatigue, Russell also talks about emotional fatigue. This would seem to be something that we all experience but something that we tend to do little about. This is the feeling you get on those days where, for some reason, you’re unmotivated. Suddenly, the tasks you set out to do seem like the last thing you’d ever want to do. Where you would typically pour your heart, you want to reserve that action.
This is what it’s like to be emotionally tired.
Emotional fatigue is something that we try to remedy by tending to our wellbeing. All of the exercises and practices that bring us balance are ways that we can hypothetically rest at an emotional level.
To this degree, we see a lot of people taking vacations in order to deal with their emotional fatigue. In principal, the thought of escaping for a week or so is the perfect separation from the situation, one that would allow us to better confront our situation with our fully rested emotions.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is flawed.
Just escaping is sort-of like putting your palm in the face of your life and ignoring your context for the duration of your trip. It is a Band-Aid. You’re putting yourself in a temporary vortex where your context can’t find you. But then, somehow, it does. You might find yourself checking your work email on vacation or problem-solving a situation for your return.
Now, indeed, a degree of separation from your context is necessary to remedy your emotional fatigue, but it has to be dealt with correctly.
The very consideration that you should be constantly checking your email or thinking about work can be traced to a feeling that your work would fail without your constant attention. Of course, it may be nice to consider this to be true, but it is very far from reality. We have to be content to know that things will be done well in our absence, that our absence (in principal) doesn’t really matter, and that any action that occurs while we are away may occur differently than how we might have done it ourselves, but that that is fine.
Russell writes about this when he says,
“One of the symptoms of approaching nervous break-down is the belief that one’s work is terribly important, and that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster.”
So, how does he presume that we deal with this belief? Interestingly, he states,
“If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.”
Russell writes about the holiday as a necessity, but he wrote this long before the advent of email and social media, so it was a lot easier for those in his era to be unplugged.
Perhaps the most interesting point that Russell addresses on the concept of emotional fatigue and the necessity of detachment from our work is what lies at the root of the belief that our work is “terribly important”:
“The nervous break-down which appears to be produced by the work is, in fact, in every case that I have ever known of personally, produced by some emotional trouble from which the patient attempts to escape by means of his work. He is loath to give up his work because, if he does so, he will no longer have anything to distract him from the thoughts of his misfortune, whatever it may be.”
Does this sound anything like you? Have you have turned to work as an escape?
I have. As such, I know that this has real application despite the new age we live in.
It is fundamental to our wellbeing that we give ourselves time and space to escape. Escaping includes taking time for ourselves, spending time with important people in our lives and refusing to sacrifice that time for work.
Turn off your phone and don’t check your emails—the world can wait until the morning.
If the world can’t wait for you, that’s not your fault.
If you’re getting away, put things in place to give yourself room to breath. Consider the following:
- Put an auto-responder on your email.
- Get important tasks out of the way or plan to do them upon your return.
- Ask someone to cover your responsibilities in your absence, knowing that you will gladly fill in for them when they are away.
Consider work to be an aspect of you and not all of you. Escaping isn’t that hard and it will do more good for you in the long run.