Do we give ourselves the time we need to heal?

I’ve been full of cold this week – cue much sympathy!

Now I like to take to my bed when I’m feeling poorly. I appreciate that I am lucky to be able to do this and appreciate that it is not always an option, which got me thinking about the nature of illness and rest and the pressure on us to keep working when I feel my body needs time to heal.

Being ill when you are self employed is a double edged sword – on the one hand, I don’t get paid if I don’t work, so I don’t like taking time off if I can help it… however… on the other hand I don’t need to justify myself if I do feel I need some recuperation time. And this week I did need some time in bed. Strangely, though, I did notice that I felt guilty for taking time off.

I strongly believe that illness is nature’s way of making us rest. If I had been fully fit and well my immune system would have swatted away the bugs with ease. My cold came on after a very busy work period, which hasn’t allowed me much down time (cue more sympathy please!) followed by a busy social weekend (sympathy not deserved!). I’ve burnt the candle at both ends, become run down, not listened to my own advice (!!) about relaxation and “me” time, and ended up, not surprisingly, with a cold. My body had been giving me the signs for a while to take extra care, which I chose to ignore. Finally illness forced me to slow down and rest.

So where did my guilt come from?

I feel there is immense pressure on us to keep working when we are ill. I hear a lot, from my friends and my yoga students, that employers actively discourage time off sick, and they feel under pressure to go to work even when they know they shouldn’t. I realise employers need to clamp down on “duvet days” but most people I know are loyal, hard working employees who only take time off when absolutely necessary, however they are uncomfortable about taking time off and worry about it counting against them in this current climate of job cuts. I understand this and recognised that felt I was letting my company down by not working!

Next I thought about all those adverts for cold and flu remedies, advising us to mask the symptoms and to not let those pesky “cartoon” virus’s put a halt on our working day. Further encouraging us to believe that if you take a day off you are being lazy and not stepping up to the mark.

These messages worry me for a several reasons.

  • Is masking the symptoms always a good idea? Of course we want relief from the blinding headache, painful congestion, aching and shivering, I’m not denying that. However do the symptoms prevent us from “overdoing” things? If we keep going are we in danger of causing ourselves more problems in the future? I know people who have taken pain killers to help ease the pain of an injury, only to go on and cause further damage because the analgesic medication allowed them to continue doing the same activity that caused the problem in the first place. To me this is no different – pain is nature’s way of telling us that something is wrong and needs dealing with.
  • Is it fair to go to work, full of cold, and risk passing it on to our colleagues and probably back to ourselves!? Doesn’t it make more sense to have a fully functioning, healthy, productive workforce?
  • I know when I’m feeling off colour my productivity is greatly decreased and I am more likely to make mistakes. Is it not counter-productive to keep working when feeling under par? In my experience, if I take time to rest I recover so much quicker than if I just struggle on, therefore I am much more efficient and productive.

I realise that life is not always simple. I understand that it is not easy to take time off and rest. These were just some thoughts I had whilst I was recuperating. I would be interested to hear your views and opinions.

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