Time famine

Time famine can leave people never feeling relaxed. (BrigidSchulte.com)

Ask someone in this city how they are and the answer you often get is: tired, or busy, or stressed.

Sometimes, you get all three.

It's especially the case for working parents, struggling to balance the demands of a job and raising a family. Add in a long commute — and the very real challenge of making ends meet — and you've got yourself a grind.

As we begin a new year, we're taking stock of this syndrome.

How we got to a place where we all seem to be tired, busy and stressed, almost all the time. It's that constant sense of not having enough time that led Brigid Schulte to write her book.

'It's a really common feeling'

Schulte is a former staff reporter with the Washington Post, a mother of two, and the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.

"There are so many people who feel a sense of 'time famine' — just absolutely pressed for time, that there's never enough time in a day to do everything that they need and want to do," Schulte told Metro Morning.

"Then there's the feeling exhaustion, that sense of never being able to sleep, being anxious, worried and depressed, that things are not quite right yet not knowing what to do about it. It's a really common feeling."

In her book, Schulte looks at the changing nature of work, and how that has exasperated the feelings of stress people have today. She found that wasn't the case in previous generations.

"The way we live our lives is very different," she said.

There's a number of factors, according to Schulte: women's expanding roles in work, more and enhanced technology, informational overload, increasing expectations from employers. But one constant she said is workplace culture — it has not adapted to the modern world.

"We haven't caught up with the fact that there really isn't somebody at home in the way that there was several decades ago, taking care of everything. And our workplace cultures expect more and more of everyone. It's almost like we've forgotten that we have to raise the next generation," she said.

"Our lives have become more blended between work and life, and yet our workplace cultures don't accept or allow for that."

Solving 'time famine'

There are places in the world that have done a better job of addressing this. Of course, there is no Shangri-La, said Schulte, where no problems exist. Each part of the world has different conditions that cause stress, and different structures around work. 

There are cultures where work doesn't define you, though. Schulte said she looked to those places to find solutions to so-called time famine.

"It's important that you have purposeful and meaningful work," she said. "But it shouldn't be overwhelming."

In Denmark, every parent gets two "nurture days" per child a year until the child is eight, in order to make it to parent-teacher conferences, the school play, etc. Young people are taught in school to run a household, everything from cooking, cleaning to taking care of daily chores. This helps later on as households rely on everyone contributing.

Other countries limit work hours by law to keep workers from being exploited, burned out or, in the case of Germany in particular, to keep unemployment low by spreading out work hours among more workers. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have state paid parental leave policies.

Most of the best solutions to stresses revolve around what she calls open space.

This solution is simply to make space on your calendar, said Schulte. She calls this "open space" — a time in which nothing is scheduled for either you or your children, if you have them. This is a time when you do nothing. 

"That's probably one of the first things people can do to feel little expansiveness, a little time to breathe in their lives," she said.

Adherents to the open space solution can sort through feelings of stress, and catch up on sleep and rest. But finding open space has other benefits, like being a more productive person.

"If you want more productivity, if you want insight, if you want creativity, that requires open space," she said. "There's a reason you get your best ideas in the shower."