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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Is true 'time off' possible in a technological age?

Rika Kayama

I'm a psychiatrist, but I rarely think of my work when I'm with my family or friends. To put it more precisely, I'm accustomed to automatically switching my mind out of work mode when I leave my clinic. This is why when I'm consulted about medication outside work, say at a dinner with my old classmates, and they say something like, "My husband is taking this drug for his depression," I sometimes can't even recall what it is. "Aren't you a professional?" they say, obviously disappointed. But I believe allowing myself time to completely forget about work is necessary to reduce stress.

My late father, on the other hand, was the director at a small OB/GYN clinic next to our home, and it was almost like he was glued to work 24/7. Because our home and his clinic were separated by a single door, even when he finally returned to the living room, he would be called right back to the clinic when someone said from behind the door that a patient had a fever. My father would not complain at all and tell the person, "I'll be with you in a minute, after I drink my tea," take a sip of tea my mother made, and go back to his clinic. He must have lived under enormous stress.

It's the same with a monk who lives next to a temple they work at, or a pastor living next door to his church. They can't just close their business for the day when their hours are up, nor can they really leave their workplace. I don't think it's an ideal lifestyle from a physical and mental health standpoint.

A friend of mine told me that they also pretty much work 24 hours a day. The person works for a foreign company where overtime is kept to a certain number of hours, and workers are allowed to choose what time they come into the office. I said, "That sounds nice. I envy you," but they shook their head, saying, "But being able to work from anywhere means you're expected to work anytime of the day." This person was fed up with checking work emails and doing work-related tasks on their computer when at home or out and about, even in the middle of the night or on holidays.

I realized that this is not an age where we can get away from work just by leaving the office. It is a serious problem if an increasing number of people are living lives in which they are constantly tied to work due to progress in technology. How can we take true time off work? Do we have to purposely leave our computers and smartphones behind? That would be a challenge. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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