#54: Managing stress at home and at work
Thoughts on the mental health epidemic, the problem of mistaking your desk for an altar, and what one deliciously famous company tried to do about it
Hi, beautiful readers. I hope you’re having a great Wednesday and are taking care of yourselves.
In this post, you can expect to read about:
Some thoughts on the mental health epidemic and what we can do about it.
A deliciously famous company that encouraged employees to work less but then, for a surprising reason, reneged.
When you feel alone, your own skillset, discipline, and competitive edges will of course seem madly important, there’s no one to rely on but stretched-out you. And you’ll read Horkeimer and Arendt and Paglia in your private time which you don’t have, to learn that it has happened on multiple occasions before, the individual got exhausted but there was no community to turn to, and then someone came and started shouting from a stage, and you couldn’t tell if it was true or not really, and you decided to follow, as following felt, at last, like rest.
In an Ayn Randian/Fountainhead world, or perhaps in a Protestant America, where individual hard work is how we measure our self worth, we create, through no fault of our own, a mental health epidemic.
It’s not our fault, but we shouldn’t be too quick to deny any responsibility. After all, it is through our individual actions, as a result of the daily grind that we subject ourselves to, that leaves us exhausted, anxious, and frantic, that we, collectively, like tiny specs of interconnected sand particles, fuel the very problem that lives in our collective subconscious.
Said differently - it’s the system, man.
Because what happens when one person shows up at work stressed out, anxious, and frantic, is that it can make their coworkers stressed out, anxious, and frantic, too.
Similarly, what happens when one partner shows up at home stressed out, anxious, and frantic, it can make their family stressed out, anxious, and frantic, too.
Now, I know that “emotions are not contagious,” but anyone who has been in the presence of an anxious person for an extended period of time, knows, it can sometimes feel like you have entered a warped, alternate reality universe where a little monster has sprinkled some fear and panic into the air.
At work, this sort of emotional contagion can come across from a coworker, or worse yet, a boss, who is urging the team to work harder and to push more to meet a deadline; who is always pointing a finger at someone else’s incompetence; who is constantly frustrated and frazzled by the current situation, whatever it may be.
And at home, this sort of emotional contagion can come across from a partner who is bossy and mean; who sets arbitrary cleanliness and organization standards and gets frustrated when their family doesn’t obey; who has trouble unplugging, relaxing, and just spending time with the family.
NPR has a great piece titled How To Help Your Anxious Partner — And Yourself.
Sandy Capaldi, associate director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania, provides the following advice:
Don't let your partner's anxiety run your family's life. For example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is closely linked to anxiety disorders, might want family members to keep everything very clean or organized in arbitrary ways. Newman says it's important to restrict how much you will organize your household around your partner's anxiety — and not to indulge every request or mandate.
Try to be respectful, but also set limits.
Anxiety doesn't have an easy solution, but helping someone starts with compassion. "Too many partners, particularly male partners, want to fix it right away," Daitch says. "You have to start with empathy and understanding. You can move to logic, but not before the person feels like they're not being judged and ... misunderstood."
Although the advice is for dealing with anxious partners at home, using empathy and understanding, rather than logic, is a useful piece of advice for anxious coworkers, too. Especially because the person may be dealing with trauma, which I have written about in detail previously.
Okay, so switching gears now a bit.
I am very curious about why we find ourselves in an anxious and frantic society. And my research confirms that it’s not necessarily the individual’s fault. It’s the system’s fault, man.
Let’s dive into a little history.
You may be surprised to learn that the famous economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that by 2030, “a fifteen hour work week would be sufficient for all but the most extreme workaholics.”
And there’s a really interesting story here.
In the year 1930, high unemployment during The Great Depression allowed Kellogg’s, the cereal empire, to experiment with a 6 hour workday.
W.K. Kellogg, the company’s owner, pushed for the experiment because he:
complained that he had never learned to play, but in old age turned his attention to helping others overcome the situation in which he found himself. He donated considerable money to local recreational projects and encouraged his employees to use their spare time in “worthwhile” activities.
When Kellogg’s moved away from the traditional 8-hour workday, to a 6-hour workday, workers were really happy. They used their free time to visit friends over beer or coffee, participate in amateur sports like hunting or fishing, and do family things together like gardening, canning, and school projects.
Then, in 1937 Kellogg’s became unionized and a new management team emerged that was not committed to the 6-hour workday. By 1941, a large group of workers wanted to return to the 8-hour work week.
A few years later, World War II started, and Kellogg’s had to move to a 48 hour work week, although they promised to revert to 6 hour days after the emergency was over.
In mid-1946, employees reaffirmed their commitment to the short workday, with eighty-seven percent of women and seventy-one percent of men voting for six hours
The tides turned, however, between 1946 and the mid 1950. Most workers wanted to work more than 6 hour days! But, why?
What happened between the end of World War II and the late 1950s that caused workers to change their minds about how much to work and how much to earn?
Hunnicutt points to a new approach by Kellogg’s management, part of a broader trend in management during this period. Managers became coaches rather than authoritarian drivers and tried to “sell” workers on the importance of doing their jobs and seeing work as the center of their lives. Management began to denigrate and “feminize” shorter hours. National union officials were very willing to trade shorter hours for offers of hourly wage increases. But most importantly many workers, especially male employees, seem to have changed their tastes. They became embarrassed by the short hours that they were working — shorter than the shifts worked by men at other local jobs.
Oh, boy…new management approaches. This one in particular, that “sells” workers on the value of their job, helps explain why many Americans mistake their desk for an altar, leading to burn-out rather than self-actualization.
On that note, there is more and more science literature on the importance of play for adults, so I hope you are finding time each day for leisure, fun, and quality time with your loved ones.
In the words of German poet, playwright and philosopher Friedrich Schiller,
Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being,
and he is only fully a human being when he plays.
Be well, and take care my friends. <3
Thanks for the Kellogg history. Very interesting. Also keep in mind that while their is no doubt that lifestyle and environment have a huge effect on mental health , there is also a biological and genetic component that plays a big role and requires appropriate medication and other therapies to control