Is it necessary to slow down in order to destress oneself? The answer to that question is yes and no. And how much work is too much?
Some individual work more than 100 hours a week and still feel relaxed and other after 30 hours of work feel a desperate need to slow down and relax, why is it so? It has to do with equanimity. Those of us who can maintain equanimity all the time feel relaxed and working even a 100 hours per week is no problem. However, for those who react emotionally to small issues get tired easily and will need to slow down in order to avoid the detrimental effects of stress.
The term work-life balance implies that work is separate from life, I don’t know on what grounds we can understand that apart from the time slots. It was easy to understand this concept 20 years ago when work meant one’s activities between nine and five on weekdays, and life was seen as activities during the rest of the time. Not any more in 2021, more so during the pandemic.
The second implication is that work sucks you and the life rejuvenates you. This may be true for someone who is forced to do things they don’t want to do at their workplace, and during the rest of the time they are able to do things they enjoy and feel rejuvenated from. In reality work may not be that soul crushing and life may not be that kind at home. For some it may be just the opposite i.e. work rejuvenates them and life gives stress. How Do we understand that? Perhaps for them family life is more stressful than their work, and work provides an escape from major stress. Or it could be that they never switch off from whatever is there on their minds irrespective of whether it’s a family matter or work-related problem.
When they are at work they are worried about family matters and when at home they are constantly thinking about work-related issues. The mind doesn’t want to be where the body is.
This can be explained further using a model of Doing/Being modes. We are human beings but have ended up being human doings, all the time we are busy doing things, trying to be more productive, not wanting to waste time, etc. Perhaps related to our parents dictates – be more focused, be productive, don’t waste time, you’ve to reach somewhere and become somebody, et cetera. We try to fill the gaps between our activities even if it is for a few minutes with something productive i.e. sending a text message, dropping an email, tidying things around, etc.
So instead of worrying about the Work/Life balance we should try to look at our Doing/Being balance.
Now let’s examine what is the Being mode. It’s when you’re not making a conscious effort to actively create something new in your mind or in the outside world. You can still do things that can be done at the spinal level; things that don’t require a mental effort and won’t create any new emotions, both positive or negative. Activities such as talking to friends over the phone, watching television, reading a book, listening to music, eating, sex all these things can create new emotions and therefore should be shunned during the Being mode. Activities that won’t require “Doing” would be lazing around, sitting in the garden, doing stretching exercises, meditation, going for a walk, being close to nature, DIY in the house that does not require effort and emotional engagement etc.
Going back to the discussion of work/life balance, if your work-related activities can be done at the spinal level and without emotional reaction then it is not stressful at all and will be classed as your being mode and not the doing mode. I have come across individuals who tells me that work for them is like child’s play, and it’s handling the family matters that gets the best of them.
If your free time involves constant struggle, arguments, high emotions with your family, friends, neighbors then you are constantly in the doing mode and your mind starts craving for the Being mode, that is why some people get desperate for the next holiday soon after returning from one.
Now let us examine what happens during the doing and the being modes, and for that we have to understand the structure of our psyche. We can understand our mind in terms of two broad compartments; the Ego (intellect) and the Spirit. It doesn’t matter what words we use to describe these two components as different people may use different terminologies to describe them, it doesn’t matter as long as we understand what we mean by them.
I would first describe what is “Ego.” The ego is the part of your mind that is required when you are interacting with the outside world. It is the part of your mind that is judging, feeling, thinking and reacting as a result of being in the world. This part is required to lead a normal life as a member of the society. Without this being we can’t lead a normal life in the world. It is like our car, our computer, our smart phone, all the gadgets and tools that are needed.
As opposed to the Ego we have another part of our mind that can be described as the inner consciousness, the spirit or the soul, the inner observer, et cetera. In existential times this can be described as the-being-in-itself. This is when we connect with ourselves.
It is like at the end of the day when we prepare ourselves to go into deep restful sleep and get under the duvet we don’t need our car or laptop or a smart phone, we don’t even need to think about our work related or domestic problems. We don’t want to think about anything that requires effort no matter how important it is, we put it off for the next day.
This connection with our spirit is necessary for healing, growth, replenishment, stress management and undoing our tiredness. This connection with our spirit can happen even during daytime for short periods of time during the gaps between our daily activities and between our thoughts, when we are fully present in the moment and not complaining, analysing, emotionally reacting to things from the past or the future.
If your work allows you to switch to the Being mode more frequently then it can’t be classed as work in the traditional sense. Many people describe their work as child’s play. Writers, artists and workmen have described moments when thoughts and activities flow from them spontaneously without any effort, and such moments can be described as the Being mode. However, these very people can have moment when they are struggling to find the right thought or activity, and it should be classed as doing mode.
In a similar fashion, a lot of our daily activities outside the work will fall under the category of the doing mode. A good understanding of the doing and the being mode can help us organize our lives better.
Philosophers have described the Being mode further under several categories
For philosophers even when you are not in the “Doing” mode you are not 100 percent with yourself. According to Sartre and Heidegger it is not possible for humans to be 100 percent within oneself i.e. Being-in-itself, it’s only animal who have it and the desire of a human being to become God-like can also lead one into that state.
Heidegger has used the word Dasein – meaning when the self is aware of the self and the Self cares about self (Being-for-itself) and makes sure that it grows and remains healthy. Heidegger also says that this care about others (Being-for-the-world) also works in the same way – allows the self to grow and remain healthy.
However, Sartre takes a different position – for him Being-for-itself is in contrast with Being-for-others. Our caring for others comes at the cost of our caring for ourselves. Whereas for Heidegger our caring for others promotes our caring for self. Martin Buber supports Heidegger’s position by elaborating this understanding along the lines of I-IT and I-Thou relationships.
Doing/Being balance – it is therefore important that we understand that “Doing mode” could be an escape into our immersion in the public everyday world – the anonymous world of “the They” and “the Them.” This everyday consciousness may be different from the Dasein – which is a being mode.
There seems to be a contradiction here as the issue of whether caring for others comes at the cost of caring for self, or it promotes it, is still not clear.
The important thing to understand here is that if we understand the Dasein as neither a subject nor an object but always in relation to the world – Being-in-the-world, then caring for others is caring for self. And if we understand Self as a Being-for-the-world then caring for others will come at the cost of self-care.
From an existential or spiritual point of view it is important to understand the nature of “Being mode” to be able to achieve a desired work/life, ego/spirit or doing/being balance.
© Kishore Chandiramani, Consultant Psychiatrist
Emotions Clinic, Education and Training Centre Cic, Staffordshire, England
Image courtesy: https://www.forbes.com/sites/briannegarrett/2019/12/08/move-over-work-life-balance-hello-work-life-integration/?sh=3e84d5193ce2