My life as a fulltime freelancer took a bad turn after a shoot last week. I had a stressful day and a half, and while I was chilling on the couch later that night, my husband pointed out that I was scratching my face. This isn’t new, I often scratch my skin when I’m stressed out, but when he pointed it out I realised that it actually itches. So I went into the bathroom and discovered that not only is my face itching, my arms are itching as well. I pull up my shirt and find that the rash I had before the wedding is back. And it’s everywhere.
Somehow I think I’ve always handled my time carefully. I always show up early for meetings, get up extra early so that I have time to take it easy in the mornings, plan my work so that it doesn’t pile up and almost never wait until the last minute… and yet here I am, covered in rashes with a brain not operating fully due to long-term stress. I’ve blamed myself for this. “It must be me, everyone else seems to be able to handle life”. But in the last few months I’ve watched people around me break down, one by one, and I’ve realised that it’s not just me. It’s not up to us as individuals to try to cope, something needs to change.
Looking back at past jobs and job interviews where they ask you how well you operate under stress, makes me want to go back in time and give a lecture about the negative effects of long-term stress and how it isn’t a positive thing for the company to hire people on the premise that their job is stressful. If the job is stressful – change something! No one will thank you a few years down the road when you crash and can’t function like a normal human being.
Stress-related illness is a rising problem in society, and we cope by changing our mindset, trying out a new diet or becoming more “spiritual”. Sure, we can try to learn mindfulness, do yoga on the weekends and “not get ourselves worked up”, but how is that going to change anything? How is mindfulness going to help you when your boss emails you late at night, telling you he needs your project, that you haven’t even started, to be done by lunch tomorrow? How is mindfulness, or yoga, or excersise going to fix the core problem? The core problem being that time equals money.
I blame consumerism and our outdated views on work. We need to realise that yes, time is precious, but time isn’t money. Money requires time. Quick results might seem tempting, but letting things take their time is more beneficial in the long run. Innovation, inspiration and new ideas can’t grow in stressful environments. And think about how much money society loses on sick leave due to stress. We’re talking billions.
We need to talk more about these issues, especially with employers, and not apply for jobs where the word “stress” is in the job description. Health comes first.