Seeking Healthy Work
Work gets a bad rap. We treat it as if it’s a terrible distraction from what we want to be doing. Grudgingly and grumbling, we daily head off to the office, job site, or factory floor. We gripe about how much time work takes up in our lives, how it never seems to end, and how (many days) it looks like it’s more stress than it’s worth. It’d be better to be on a boat, relaxing on the lake. An occasional visit to the lake sounds like a great outing, but too much of that leisure and free time is a trap, a recipe for future problems.
Currently, we have 10.7 million Americans not working, and an unemployment rate of 6.7%. That’s a mental health problem waiting to unravel. And that’s an improvement over 6 months ago, when there were 16.3 million Americans out of work and the unemployment rate sat in excess of 10%.
Even the U.S. federal government saw the writing on the wall: they allocated $425M of the CARES Act specifically for mental health and substance abuse treatment. We need to refocus on how we approach work and how it best serves a life well-lived.
Let’s examine work, and why it’s such a critical piece for our overall well-being and mental health.
What Is Work?
Our concept of work anchors in our professional work, what we do that draws a paycheck. And that’s the bulk of our weekly effort. But there are other areas where action is needed.
Houses, yards, and vehicles: they each require ongoing work. Hobbies, interests, or projects: even though we desire to do them, many are not necessarily pure fun. Communities, relationships, families: these sometimes take the most work of all, mixing it up emotionally with other people.
Think about how many things that we do voluntarily and without monetary reward, which fall into “working.” Why would we sign up for so many areas of our life that required work and effort? Because we all know (deep down) that this statement is true:
Work is not tedium; in fact, it’s essential to who we are as human beings.
Work Is Biological
Mankind is created to work. In the creation story, man is formed and given life and immediately given a role and task. And it was good. Working comes before the Fall, before humanity makes a hash out of paradise.
Think about that: regular productive work was part of the rhythm of paradise.
Even if you’re not a believer, physiology speaks to the reality that we are made to work. Our minds are restless unless applied to something. Many of us are happiest when we’re solving problems. The shape and configuration of our bodies make all types of work and tasks possible. Our bodies function best when they are regularly physically exerted. Working is in our DNA.
Working for Mental health
As with most things, work taken to an extreme can be counterproductive to your health and mental state, but that’s an exception, not the rule. The rule is this:
You will feel better about yourself, talents, life, and abilities if employed at a productive task or job.
Your mind will be more precise, you’ll have greater focus, alongside more confidence. For anecdotal evidence: Watch what happens to folks who don’t have work in their life.
Have you ever been unemployed? I’ve never met anyone that enjoyed it. It’s mentally and emotionally stressful to desire work and to not have it. If that inactivity goes on too long, it starts to work on our self-confidence, anxiety, and overall mental outlook.
Our brains need a task. If they lack it, they will invent it; and it’s rarely a positive one. In the absence of a job or work, our minds will conjure up insecurities, fears, doubts, and negative emotions. We will dream up problems and issues merely to fill the vacuum of an empty mind.
Work keeps our minds on an even keel. Even boring jobs are therapeutic and restorative. Sweeping a floor or painting a wall, there’s a rhythm that quiets the frantic bustle in our heads, allows room for thoughts to settle, to gain perspective. The kinetic activity fosters a sense of both mental contentment and relaxation. If you’re stewing and feeling anxious, accomplish a simple task to give your mind a break.
Ease Is Dangerous
The lie is that we want ease and comfort. The truth is that we wish for productive tasks with a purpose. A life of convenience, with little friction or effort, leaves us hollow. We become adrift, with nothing to apply our energy towards. We start to feel a vague sense of unease and worry, as our time and energies lack a substantial target. Ease becomes the enemy.
Ease allows room for the doubts and fears to set up shop, let you know that they’re still around and ready to hang out.
Ease allows time for past mistakes to creep back into your thoughts, spoiling your future.
Ease makes you rusty, lazy, and bored. Your talents and motivation become dull.
Ease is dangerous.
Changing Our Mindset
If you’ve previously approached work as an obstacle to overcome, please change your perspective. Our lives do not divide into enduring grueling work to have unadulterated fun and bliss in our time off. The roles and responsibilities we each have are more nuanced.
Work is positive in our life; it’s a force for good. It’s a training ground for the people we want to be, alongside an arena for accomplishment and reward. We should not work as a necessary evil, something to be endured but rather a task and opportunity to be embraced.
Do you sometimes struggle with remaining productive? Does it hinder your mental outlook?
Start today: find something to put your mind and muscle towards. Approach work as an opportunity to train your mental state, alongside accomplishing a productive task.
Originally published at https://fjwriting.com on August 19, 2020.