Happy Labor Day !

I hope you and yours are enjoying this long Labor Day weekend.  I just wanted to say a few words about the history and significance of this end of summer holiday.

The first labor day was celebrated in 1882 but it did not become an official national holiday until 1894.  The day,which honors workers was promoted by labor unions not only to provide folks with a day of rest but also to raise awareness about the importance of America’s work force and to advocate for reasonable working hours and safer working conditions.

A major accomplishment for labor unions and a victory for all Americans came in 1938 when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act .  This law created the five-day work week and the weekend, something that many depend upon and enjoy but, sadly, now take for granted.

Beyond its significance for more humane public policy, however, Labor Day is also a symbolic reminder that there is more to life than work.   Likewise , modern research has shown that taking time off from work and having time for leisure activities  is not a luxury but an essential part of physical, emotional , social and spiritual health.

While these findings may seem like common sense, not everyone finds it easy to relax and enjoy time off. Unfortunately, embracing leisure has been a problem for some in our culture because of the negative connotations connected with it.  In the early history of our country, those who were seen as not working enough were looked upon as lazy or idlers.  Idle time was seen as an opportunity for evil. (The devil makes work for idle hands.)

In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Structuring leisure into one’s routine is the best way for one to protect him/herself from unhealthy habits or activities. People often seek unhealthy or unwise self-soothing activities when they are emotionally stressed or overwhelmed.  Being well rested both physically and mentally is the best way to avoid self-defeating or destructive temptations.

Scientifically, we’ve learned that stressing the brain too much can cause a breakdown of crucial, work-related neuropathways.  Pushing too hard, for example, instead of improving job performance actually, degrades it.  In addition, over-stressed workers have more difficulty getting along with one another and inter-personnel workplace problems can increase.  People who work too hard are more likely to be irritable and less patient and tolerant of those around them.  Being well rested, on the other hand, actually improves our ability to get along with others.

Although earlier generations over-valued hard work and demeaned leisure, we now know that maintaining a balance between work and play is crucial part of sustaining wellness.  Rather than seeing leisure in pejorative terms,  it is important to recognize leisure as an essential part of a healthy life style. We understand that machinery needs regular maintenance but we don’t realize  that our bodies and minds require time-off to function properly as well. 

It is also necessary to understand that self- care needs are more than physical,  Beyond sleep, for example, the brain needs regular periods of non-demand activity to heal itself from the damage caused by stress and other demands made by life.  Exercise, meditation, journaling, hobbies , fellowship, which are free of pressure or threat or a sense of obligation, are activities that allow the brain to regenerate broken pathways which have been corrupted by the stress overloads created by excessive work.

While we can’t always control or eliminate the stress in our lives, we can at least improve our attitude toward leisure and learn to respect our need for it and not to feel guilty for looking after our self-care needs. 

So, enjoy and give yourself permission let go of the guilt we sometimes feel for “doing nothing”.   Remember, resting and renewing is not “doing nothing”.  It is something we do to keep our bodies and brains as well as our relationships healthy and in tip top condition.   Labor Day is reminder that leisure is a necessary aspect of meeting self-care and self-maintenance needs.

Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC , Fellow AAPC               9 3 2018

*Image attribution: http://www.gifs.cc/laborday.shtml.