Einstein's Corner: Rush to Relax

by , Jun 29, 2004, 12:00 AM
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What is the price of our addictions? They are always first to the trough, first in line for everything. When we are not acting out, we are planning how we will act out the very moment we can. A technology reporter -- a woman who works twelve hours a day, six days a week -- told me not long ago how she couldn't wait to shut down her computer at the end of the work day so she could rush home, kick off her shoes and veg out in front of the TV. Probably not too atypical, I thought. I imagined her tearing through traffic like a banshee, knocking old ladies down in the supermarket, and cursing the delay in the express checkout line when the person in line ahead of her is discovered with one item too many.

Essentially, she had described a classic addiction pattern of anxiety leading up to a fix, followed by the relief of the fix itself. Anxiety and relief: the rush to relax. Heroin addict, work addict, or media addict -- it's the same exact pattern regardless of the narcotic.

I posted my observation on the Einstein's Corner Yahoo Group (see below), and received several interesting responses. One member replied, ". most people I know DREAD the days leading up to their vacation. For a precious few days off, they suffer miserably with anxieties before, during, and after they return to the office. Before -- They try to cram seven days of work into two (as if to apologize for having taken any time "off"); During -- They feel guilty if they don't check their voicemail and email at least three times a day while they site-see in some far-off land; After -- They have hundreds of emails, snail mails, and voice mails awaiting their return."

Another said, "I agree completely. I see it in myself and I see it in the thousands of people who work in this three-tower business complex. It is incredible what mind tricks I will play between 4 and 5 to get things wrapped up and find an escape window. It's almost like one of those bad (my opinion) Hollywood movies about two seconds to save the universe and they have to hit the hole just right. It did not used to be that way, but now with everything moving at such a rapid speed, I find it incredible how the days look so different to me. What a difference it makes to pull out of the parking garage at 4:55 rather than 5:05. Oh, and then there is life in the elevators."

Now consider what happens when someone goes to sleep each night worrying about the security of their job, then wakes up the next morning to start the day with the exact same concern: "How can I keep my job?" becomes the primary question instead of "How can I do a better job?" Fear becomes the essential motivator instead of accomplishment. Fear drives the anxiety, and the anxiety displaces something else: peace of mind.

So now we have a day that begins and ends with anxiety: We can't wait to get to work in order to assure ourselves that we still have a job, then can't wait to get home in order to get our media fix. But the moment the most recent media fix begins to wear thin (for me about five minutes after I turn off the TV or my computer), the anxiety begins to mount again. The only relief from the anxiety is in "doing" at work, and "not doing" at home. But "not doing" at home is increasingly difficult. We find ourselves stealing away to check our email during the commercial breaks. The addiction cycle of anxiety and release always escalates and accelerates; we always need more and we need it more frequently.

How can the quality of our work -- not to mention the quality of our lives -- not suffer when fear becomes the primary motivating mechanism? How can the quality of our work not suffer when the pressure to relax -- the pressure to fix -- at the end of the day obfuscates everything else?

What is the price of our addictions? What's the price of yours? Send me an email and let me know. Many thanks once again, my friends. Best to you and yours..

Please note: A new Einstein's Corner discussion group has been opened on Yahoo at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/einsteinscorner/. The Einstein's Corner discussion group is dedicated to exploring the adverse effects of our addictions to technology and media on the quality of our lives, both at work and at home. Please feel free to drop by and join the discussion.

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