Why is modern life so draining for many?
Modern life can often feel like an unending treadmill of exhaustion. Current generations might feel drained and overwhelmed, as the demands we face today vary greatly to those of previous generations. The modern world has many benefits such as improved healthcare and housing, but in the past, there were much clearer boundaries when it came to rest and relaxation. These are less defined, leaving us drained and overwhelmed.
Shops closed on Sundays, and high streets would observe half-day closures. Factories often closed for weekends, allowing workers more time to recuperate between shifts. Office workers, too, enjoyed a clear division between work and personal time. Once the clock struck 5 pm, work was left behind, and there were no mobile phones or personal computers to intrude on evenings and weekends.
The need for 24-hour service sees more and more people working unsociable hours, shift work and the enforced rest we used to have is no longer part of our societal norms.
Technological advancements, particularly the proliferation of smartphones and constant connectivity, have blurred the line between work and personal life which has become increasingly indistinct. Employees are now expected to be reachable at all hours, and failure to respond promptly is sometimes misconstrued as a lack of dedication.
Setting boundaries to protect personal time is often seen as a lack of ambition or commitment to the company. For example, a working mother in her 30s might be expected to travel extensively for work, often with similar expectations placed on her husband. Pushing back against these demands can be met with pressure and suggestions that it may hinder career progression.
Additionally, there is an overwhelming societal pressure to fill every moment with activities and productivity. Parents, especially, feel compelled to provide a constant stream of enriching experiences for their children, further straining their time and energy. This pressure extends to the educational sphere, where young children are faced with rigorous academic expectations and extracurricular activities that leave them feeling fatigued.
The constant barrage of messages from society, social media, and governments reinforces the notion that being productive is the only acceptable way to contribute to modern society. Phrases like "I'll sleep when I'm dead," "hustle culture," and "no days off" are celebrated, suggesting that sacrificing rest and sleep is a virtue.
Women, in particular, bear the brunt of these demands. We are expected to excel in both our careers and as care givers (as mothers, or carers) but focusing too much on either role is often criticised. Self-care, crucial for combating exhaustion, is sometimes perceived as selfish. And what is often spouted as acceptable self-care is superficial and rarely provides the relief needed.
What’s more, women often juggle full-time jobs, caregiving responsibilities, and the weight of domestic duties. We also face the persistent struggle against pay disparities and unequal career opportunities. And experiencing harassment and constantly being on guard only adds to our fatigue. On top of this, we must navigate the challenges of menstruation, perimenopause, and breaking free from generational conditioning. And this is without even considering the information and decision overload we experience which can be overwhelming. Financial stress, and the constant never ending cycle of change such as the pandemic, economic pressures, all of which are outside of the sphere of influence of the everyday person, but greatly impacts our wellbeing, is also something that can chip away at our energy levels, however resilient we are.
Add into this a lack of physical activity as jobs become more sedentary, poor sleep quality, and the impact of noise and pollution which can impact our mind, body and spirit in different ways. It’s no wonder we are a depleted society.
But we need to consider that the impact of modern life on each individual's personality and wellbeing is unique. What drains one person may energise another. Unfortunately, schools and workplaces often adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, forcing individuals to conform to an unrealistic standard of ‘normal’. And we’re urged to continuously operate outside our comfort zones, when the clue is in the name; when we are comfortable, we are well rested, and we are energised. Operating in a challenging environment for long periods of time is depleting. A tree doesn’t thrive and produce in conditions that are challenging, and the longer a tree is in those conditions the more depleted it becomes until the damage is irreversible. The same applies to humans, we can cope with only a certain amount of challenge and discomfort before we become burnt-out and depleted.
Thankfully, some cultures still value the importance of rest. In parts of the Outer Hebrides, Sundays are dedicated to rest, with even the act of hanging out laundry considered inappropriate. Many European countries prioritise lunch breaks, closing shops and offices to allow for a proper meal break. Taking extended holidays is seen as essential in many parts of the world, but in the UK and the USA, it is often viewed as excessive.
In a world that never stops, it's crucial to recognise the exhausting realities of modern life and take steps to prioritise self-care, set boundaries, and challenge societal expectations. Only then can we hope to find balance and relief in this draining modern existence.