Some ways of dealing with fatigue can make things worse

TOKYO —

What’s the matter with us? In a word, we’re exhausted.

Many readers will accept that as self-evidently true. For skeptics there are these health ministry figures: One Japanese in three suffers symptoms of chronic fatigue during at least half the year. Among those who work on computers, 78% claim to feel tired beyond what seems normal.

Physical fatigue is the least of our worries. No civilization has ever made fewer physical demands on its people than ours does. But mentally, says the fitness magazine Tarzan (Nov 22), we are overwhelmed. There are rising quotas to meet, exacting clients to satisfy, cantankerous bosses to placate; there are long commutes in packed trains; there are long working hours followed by long hours of mandatory business socializing. Stresses multiply, and releases are few. In fact, claims Tarzan, most of the stress relievers we favor only make matters worse. Let’s look at some of them.

Computer gaming is one. Home at last after a long hard day, you head for the game console, and soon you’re in another world. That’s what you wanted, but the game world is quite as stressful in its own way as the workaday world. Gaming at night is a major threat to a good night’s sleep. And sleeplessness, as everybody who lives with it knows, is no cure for what ails you.

A good drink – that’s what we need, right? Wrong. Sure, get enough alcohol into you and worries that seem large when you’re sober are dissolved into insignificance – temporarily – but the trouble is that the liver, tasked with breaking down alcohol, tends to rebel if overworked. A stressed-out liver is not restful. So once again, you lose.

Leading a full leisure life seems promising, and is – but, says Tarzan, there’s a tendency to overdo it, to the point where even a brief interval of idleness and solitude becomes intolerable. A packed schedule becomes a source of pride; a gap in the agenda demands to be filled with something, anything – shopping, a movie, a trip to a theme park, whatever. Leisure on these terms is no doubt more fun than work, but it’s scarcely less tiring.

Tarzan’s plea is for a revival of the lost art of moderation. Even a hot bath, seemingly the most innocent stress reliever imaginable, tires more than it soothes if the water is too hot and you stay in it too long. And exercise – who would say anything against that? In fact the magazine does set out an exercise program for relief of, and strengthening against, fatigue. But here too, stopping short of excess is “an iron rule.”

The problem in Tarzan’s view seems to be not so much that work is too hard but that a healthy balance between exertion and repose has been lost – not irretrievably, one hopes.

  • 2

    SimondB

    Despite the advice given here I find after a rather stressfull and tiring day that a few good alcoholic drinks does wonders for me.

  • 9

    John Matsushima

    I feel stressed out from reading this.

  • 10

    Ian Duncan

    Surely the answer lies in completing your work within what your contract specifies as a working day, then leaving your office and enjoying your life? Better than a pantomime of 14 hours a day of looking busy. If you need to work until 10pm every night of the week, you need to reexamine your working method.

  • 6

    sighclops

    I find smashing out a session at the gym really helps, especially hard to work. Garnering up the motivation is no easy task, though!

  • 0

    sighclops

    *after work

  • -3

    AKBfan

    Tarzan's advice is no good. i would rather listed to Brutus.

  • 4

    JA_Cruise

    everything in moderation is the key to life

  • 5

    Zen student

    Tarzan’s plea is for a revival of the lost art of moderation.

    There is a great book by Milan Kundera called "Slowness" and this is exactly what he is talking about. In our rush to modernity and grabbing the latest gizmos and gadgets, we have forgotten how to appreciate things slowly. We do need more moderation in our lives but it totally depends on your personality. I think some people are more suited for the fast life and the rat race while others prefer to kick back and take life at a slower pace. I used to be in the former category but now believe that a more paced lifestyle is healthier and more satisfying.

  • 2

    timeon

    1-2 beers or 1-2 glasses of wine does wonders for me at night. every night. but yeah, there should be better ways to cope with fatigue and especially stress.

  • 3

    ThonTaddeo

    No civilization has ever made fewer physical demands on its people than ours does.

    This isn't really true. Sure, we have machines and technology to do a lot of what used to involve heavy lifting, but other "physical demands" have become worse. Cnosider sleep deprivation -- today companies think nothing of working their employees so many hours that they can't get eight hours' sleep even if they climb into the futon th emoment they get home.

    Virtually no one was this sleep deprived in the era before electricity -- at night, after the sun went down, people went to sleep. Even in mid-summer, there are 8-9 hours of darkness even at the northern latitudes. And there was much less ambient noise.

    Japan's culture of sleep deprivation eneds to come to an end. It makes people irritable and cranky, it makes people less productive at work, and it makes people depressed and miserable. The opportunity to sleep eight hours or more every day should be a fundamental human right.

  • 3

    lucabrasi

    @Thon

    Even in mid-summer, there are 8-9 hours of darkness even at the northern latitudes

    What?? Not where I grew up, there wasn't. Six hours, tops, in July. Where are you from, Thon?

    .

  • 0

    ThonTaddeo

    Luca, I'm from New York, which is just above the 40° line. In the summer it's dark -- not pitch dark, but too dark to do any work if you have no artificial light -- from 8 PM to about 5 or 6 AM.

  • 0

    lucabrasi

    @Thon

    Got you. But if we're talking dark time in summer, then we barely got six hours when I was a kid back in Sandwick, Shetland. It wouldn't be dark till ten and the sun would rise again at four. Of course winter was the opposite: the sun didn't rise till nine and it was dark by three-thirty. Happy days!

    • Moderator

      Back on topic please.

  • 0

    Thomas Proskow

    Work culture is one HUGE source of stress here. It's been something that's been building tirelessly from many sources in history, but especially since the Showa era.

    Conformity, workaholism, everything described in the article......

    However, even a stressful workweek can seem less overwhelming if we're doing what we love.

    A huge problem with modern culture is the pressure to fit in and be who you're expected to be, rather than who you want to be. Therefore, people work themselves into misery and death through lifetimes of doing what they hate or feel no passion for, rather than what they dream of doing. It's always the pressure of having to choose your lifetime career fresh out of high school, from a limited selection, and being stuck with that identity the rest of our lives. If it's something that doesn't suit us, which we can't really know until we've had experience doing it, then we have a lifetime of burnout hell to look forward to.

    The answer??? Bring back individualism and encourage ourselves to take the reins of our lives. If the source of misery is a career we're dissatisfied with, one that makes each day an ordeal where we constantly wish we were somewhere else, we should DITCH IT, and get into something we truly love doing.

  • 0

    stuarto

    i wanna hear what stress release Jane favours

  • 0

    Ah_so

    Virtually no one was this sleep deprived in the era before electricity -- at night, after the sun went down, people went to sleep. Even in mid-summer, there are 8-9 hours of darkness even at the northern latitudes. And there was much less ambient noise.

    I do not know if this is the case, but it seems logical. There used to be very little artificial light and people would keep the hours set by the sun, probably sleeping at about 8 p.m. and up at daylight, so about 5 a.m. in summer. Electrical light and the standardized times make us keep strange hours.

    In summer, the Japanese fight their body clocks by staying up hours after it gets dark and then stay in bed asleep hours after it gets light, because of a ridiculous loyalty to JST. It is hardly surprising that they get fatigue.

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