Occupational Health services are in demand with the pandemic demonstrating how useful the speciality is to all organisations, reports the Faculty of Occupational Medicine
Trying to keep up can lead to a feeling that we are struggling to catch up or keep on top of everything, especially as our one whole self includes both home and work. Trying to keep the balance of family, deadlines, health, socialising, daily tasks, and the demands of work can be tricky sometimes, especially in today’s world that never seems to be fully ‘off’. If we aren’t careful, fatigue could be a very real and detrimental element of our working and personal lives.
So, how exactly can we combat it, especially when those social demands may be increasing as Christmas draws nearer?
Firstly, what is fatigue?
Fatigue is described as a feeling of constant tiredness or weakness, which can be physical, mental, or a combination of both and is not relieved by sleep.
Physical tiredness and mental fatigue can occur due to a lack of sleep causing difficulty concentrating. Evidence suggests driving whilst tired can be as dangerous as drink driving, with obvious consequences. As more and more Occupational Health and Safety professionals, amongst other professions, start to return to the workplace, it is even more important that we look to combat fatigue and tiredness.
Even if we aren’t driving for work, did you know that there is a form of fatigue called‘digital fatigue’, referring to mental exhaustion from overuse of digital technologies (ring a bell anyone?).
It’s likely that most of us have experienced fatigue at some point before, but factoring in the pandemic and remote working, it’s probably more familiar than we’d like it to be and even start to consider it as the “new norm”.
Stop and think for a moment. When was the last time you truly stepped away from it all and had proper rest?
Sleep isn’t rest
Often, our response to feeling fatigued is to say that we just need a full night’s sleep. It’s essentially the ‘turn it off and on again’ for humans, after all. However, though sleep might address a physical symptom of fatigue such as physical exhaustion, other elements of fatigue are unlikely to be eliminated by sleep alone. What we truly need is rest, which can seem much harder to implement and conceptualise than sleeping is.
One consideration is a culture of overworking, a competitive culture that includes having no work-life balance. Any organisational culture in which fatigue is more of a status symbol needs to be addressed urgently
Long hours can lead to burnout as noted in a 2016 study which reported “long working hours are correlated with burnout when working over 40 hours per week and is even stronger when working over 60 hours per week.
Overworking can lead to a risk of heart disease and stroke, regardless of industry. However, overworking doesn’t always mean achieving more, as is explained in a Forbes article ‘How to work less and get more done!’ Forbes describes the importance of rest but for some people, rest may seem a waste of time! Perhaps this is because there is a notion that activities such as watching TV and sleeping are the only forms of rest, however, these are simply forms of passive rest. It’s active rest that can often make the most significant difference.
What is active rest?
Rather than viewing rest only as an ‘absence of work’, active rest is the more engaging alternative that can provide us with some much-needed restoration. There are physical, mental, and social forms of active rest.
Physical rest could be a 20-minute walk that not only releases endorphins, but also a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor ( BDNF is a protein that protects and repairs your memory neurons as you exercise. BDNF is behind the sudden clarity we can have after exercising, which helps us to feel at ease and recall our memories more clearly. Confirmed by the 2016 study, physical activity helps reduce the risk of burnout.
Yoga is another form of active physical rest, which can reduce stress, relieve anxiety, decrease lower back pain, stimulate brain function, and prevent heart disease.
Breathing exercises are a form of physical rest that can be easily implemented throughout your working day as well, from square breathing to some good old fashioned deep breathing, which can also help to prevent those midday yawn marathons.
Mental rest is also a useful tool for those of us who found ourselves reading the same line of an email ten times or more! Turning off devices and opting for meditation is a form of mental rest as is journaling, a popular option. Both can provide a sense of control, by focusing on the now. Or, with the latter, utilised for detailing all thoughts, as a kind of catharsis at the beginning or end of your working day.
Social rest is entirely dependent on the way that we like to recharge, i.e., either relaxing in isolation or socialising with others? For some of us, making enough space to interact in any capacity with others is essential for our wellbeing. For others, social burnout can mean that rest is more about planning days to align with energy levels, rather than becoming overwhelmed quickly, especially during periods such as Eid, Diwali and Christmas.
Keeping track of our capacity for socialising and understanding our individual needs, will help us to recognise our capacity and manage our social rest activities.
Rest is essential for our health
No matter which way you choose to rest, one thing is certain – we need rest to be healthier, happier, and to work well. Overworking can lead to burnout, whereas deliberate, intentional rest can provide us with a host of physical, mental, and overall health benefits.
Rest can mean planning our holiday times to give us regular periods away from work, perhaps each quarter, it can be a five-minute breathing exercise or a long walk with a friend. However, it always includes getting sufficient sleep! In a small study from Stanford University, a basketball team improved their shooting accuracy by 9% when they increased their sleep by 5 to 7 hours a week. Without enough sleep, say the Sleep Foundation, the brain cannot function properly, impairing our ability to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories and those who go to bed regularly at 10 pm could be lowering their risk of cardiac disease! (BBC)
Choosing your rest type could be one or all, this is really down to your preference but don’t forget sleep!
Danny Clarke CMIOSH,
Founder of Simply People