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“WE CAN’T JUST KEEP WORKING OURSELVES TO DEATH.”

0 2 years ago

THERE’S JOB STRESS, and then there’s the crushing pressure paramedics went through during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertainty, the dread, the constantly changing protocols, the shortages of personal protective equipment, the multiple calls to the same nursing home — it was almost too much for Kate Bergen of Manahawkin, New Jersey.

“It felt like everything was closing in around us,” Bergen says. “At some point, I knew that I couldn’t take any more. Was I headed for a meltdown? Was I going to just walk off the job one day? I was getting very close to that point.”

Instead of quitting, Bergen found a calling. One day while waiting for the next emergency call, she took a picture of herself in her full PPE. The image inspired her to paint a self-portrait poster in the style of World War II icon Rosie the Riveter. The message: “We need you to stay home.”

It was the first in a series of “Rosie” posters of women first responders, an ongoing project that has helped Bergen calm her mind during her downtime. Ultimately, she says, the Rosies helped her withstand the stress of her job and allowed her to show up to work each day with new energy and focus.

While workers like Bergen are responding to emergency calls and saving lives, many of us are doing things like responding to emails and saving receipts from business trips. But even for people with jobs in offices, restaurants, and factories, there’s an art and a science to making the most of downtime, says Sabine Sonnentag, a psychologist at the University of Mannheim in Germany.

The right approach to non-work time can help prevent burnout, improve health and generally make life more livable.

“When a job is stressful, recovery is needed,” says Sonnentag, who co-wrote an article exploring the psychology of downtime in the 2021 issue of the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior.

Workers everywhere are feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and ready for the weekend. With that backdrop, researchers are doing work of their own to better understand the potential benefits of recovery and the best ways to unwind.

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