I’ve posted before about how regular trips to remote places give me the opportunity to take a much-needed break from all forms of contact with the outside world and enable my brain to switch off. In recent years, I’ve found it’s absolutely crucial to do this at least twice a year, and preferably more often, for at least a week at a time. Working in academia means that while I have the wonderful benefits of not having to be in the office from 9-5 5 days a week, the flipside is the inability to switch off from work. I typically start checking emails and Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts (many of which are work-related) while still trying to coax my brain and body into action first thing in the morning, before even getting dressed, think about research ideas on the walk to and from work and while in the gym at lunchtime, and return at least to emails and social media while relaxing in the evening, if I’m not actually sitting at my computer doing “real work” until bedtime.
There are a number of reasons for my inability to switch off from work:
– work and leisure are often inextricably linked (many of my work colleagues are also good friends, so even on a night out, it’s hard not to talk about work)
– being a researcher, a linguist and a scientist means that almost everything in daily life can be related to work, and you’re constantly thinking about new ideas; in a fast-moving field you also have to keep up with the constant flux of new information
– working in social media means that you have to keep up with all the latest platforms for information dissemination
– there’s always something that needs doing at 10pm at night or on a Saturday morning at 7am (especially when collaborating with other researchers from all over the world), and given that academic deadlines are not always on weekdays
– 95% of both geeks and academics are workaholics. Being part of both worlds means that 99% of your colleagues are workaholics, and it’s very hard not to feel guilty if you’re not at work when they are.
– I actually love my job (well, most of the time). It comes second (only marginally) to being outside playing sport, travelling or doing something adventurous (all of which rank equally no. 1).
So when I don’t have anything planned for a weekend that forces me to leave my desk and computer, such as a walking or cycling trip, I inevitably end up working. Or feeling guilty that I’m not working. Or feeling guilty for not catching up on my blog. That guilt keeps me awake at night, so much so that I often have to give in and work just so I know I’ll sleep at night. But when I’m actually out and about on the hills, the guilt is swept away and I remember that life is sometimes about more than deadlines. I can see why so many climbers suffer from depression and other mental problems. Not because climbing leads to depression, or even because it attracts a certain type of personality, but because people with such issues very often find getting outdoors and pitting their wits and their body against the forces of nature has a very positive effect on them. I’m not a climber (much though I’d like to be) but struggling up a hill in a force 9 gale, or even just pounding out the miles on the bike and arguing (sometimes even out loud) with my complaining thigh muscles, has much the same effect. And I almost always sleep better the following night.