The happiest time of my life - and the most productive times - have been when I'm between jobs. I've found that I'm less stressed by impending starvation and homelessness than I was at work; at least now, there are no schedules to abide by, no demands to meet, and I'm free to sleep as long as I'd like. It's invigorating.
Hell, I even have time to visit friends and family and still have time for myself. I'm lucky; most modern adults don't have that luxury. No longer am I working myself harder and harder only to fall deeper into debt. I've hit rock bottom and found that it's actually comfortable.
In the United States, workplace stress causes an annual 120,000 deaths and nearly $190 Billion in health care costs every year, according to the American Psychiatric Association's Center for Workplace Mental Health. In Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians report experiencing a mental health problem or illness each year - or about 500,000 people unable to work every week.
Stress results not just in mental health reduction, but in physical health reduction: shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, heart problems, even vision and hearing problems. As the working class continues to get squeezed harder - and personal debtloads mounting even larger (hitting $72K per Canadian) - stress has risen to dangerous levels. Lengthening, unpaid commutes have cut into crucial personal time. Workers have to contend with stress on the way to work, at work, and on the way back from work. The continued trend of businesses murdering full-time jobs and replacing them with "at-will" part-time jobs demanding full availability but unpredictable hours has accelerated; the service sector accounts for 70% of Canada's GDP, with a full 12% of Canadians being employed by retail.
The old joke of "the economy consists entirely of everybody doing their neighbour's laundry" is less a farce than it was in old days, only now thanks to consolidation of corporate entities, even less money is left in local economies, contributing to a race-to-the-bottom and increased automation that has seen jobs repeatedly shed.
As corporations demand more and more from their workers, repeatedly giving workers impossible targets and quotas, while giving workers less and less in benefits and pay, stress has skyrocketed. Thanks to a perfect storm of long commutes, high cost of living, few communal gardens and fields, communities have been supplanted by "work families"; workers now have to contend with the possibility of losing their only friends/community when changing or losing their job.
Demanding bosses and cruel coworkers can take a massive toll on mental health, especially if you're a woman, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, or all of the previous. Income inequality has contributed to the ongoing oppression experienced by these marginalized groups. Men, for example, are seen as more competent by default. And whites overall experience less financial precarity than black or hispanic folk in America: according to Pew Research Centre, black people in America are twice as likely to be poor or unemployed. Black households in America take home half of what the average white household does. And degrees don't help - black folk with a bachelor degree earn about $20,000 USD less than a white person with the same degree.
To be clear: this isn't to say that white folks have it easy. Workplace stress and precarity hit us all, thanks to the structures of capitalism. It's that dynamics in America (and similar ones in Canada) and institutional discrimination add more difficulty to the lives of marginalized LGBTQ+ and BIPOC folk.
It's little wonder, then, that dropping out of society is on the rise.
The Industrial-Selfcare Complex
Honestly, there isn't anything witty to say on this sub-topic. Likewise, there is little witty to say about the commoditization of temporary stress relief and escapist fantasies that do nothing to address the underlying causes of stress.
An entire industry of "self-care" has arisen from the primordial snot that is Pinterest/Instagram/Twitter - an industry that exists to sell expensive commodities and "lifestyle hacks" that leave the consumer deeper in debt and more frazzled. "Time-management strategies" sell the lie that a person can be free if only they micro-managed their time more so they could be more productive (it doesn't work, you just need more time away from work).
It's an industry that's as old as Dale Carnegie's prototypical self-help book, and one now dominated by scuzzy personalities that tell you to redirect your anger towards other people and not at the system of capital.
"Treat yourself to a day at the spa" the radio ad beckons "for just $139!"
And so the cycle continues: deeper in debt, more stressed, having to take up a second job due to insufficient hours at the first job, getting fired from the first one because of "lack of availability", searching for a supplemental job, mounting credit card bills, mounting utility bills, and on it goes.
Capital sells a seductive - and insidious - lie: that you can be free of stress if only you try hard enough.