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.