“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”—a quote attributed to Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne—is great for those times when you want to pull out all the stops to meet a challenge and attain a worthwhile goal, but what about when every day is tough, and it keeps getting tougher?
That’s life for a lot of us in the age of COVID. And when stress is unrelenting, it goes from being eustress—stress that’s challenging and beneficial, to distress—stress that wears you down and causes all kinds of disease.
The challenge is to balance stress with relaxation; switching off the “fight or flight” mode, and switching on the recuperation mode.
One problem is that our culture values and rewards the “fight or flight” mode far more, and most of us are even addicted to it. Our American culture teaches us that anyone can and should be “a winner” by trying harder and working smarter, so like caged rats on a running wheel we keep plugging away hoping to come out on top. Rarely are we encouraged to be easier on ourselves or congratulated for doing or having less.
Although as life and work have become increasingly stressful the concept of “work-life balance” has been floated, it’s been more of an aspiration than a reality.
But there are signs that change is in the air. A recent Guest Essay in the New York Times dares to assert in its title that “Work is a False Idol.” Author Cassady Rosenblum, a former National Public Radio news producer who quit her job and now writes from her parents’ home in West Virginia, tells the story of Luo Huazhong, a 31-year-old former factory worker in China who started a “Lying Flat” movement. Luo also quit his job last April and posted a picture of himself online lying in bed with the caption “Lying Flat Is Justice” along with a manifesto that went viral asserting his “right to choose a slow lifestyle of reading, exercising and doing odd jobs to get by.”
Rosenblum notes that online “sympathizers shared versions of a belief that is gaining global resonance: Work has become intolerable. Rest is resistance.” Also, according to Rosenblum, a recent tweet that announced “i do not want to have a career . . . i want to sit on the porch” elicited over 400,000 likes.
Rosenblum’s article goes on to cite additional evidence that more and more people are fed up with the “rat race” and searching for a healthier, more genuinely balanced, way of life.