I am stressed out because I’m having to work long hours.

20 March, 2014

 I’ve been working on a competition, which has meant that I’ve not been getting home until after midnight.  Although I’m being paid overtime, I’m becoming increasingly stressed out. Is this simply an effect of having to put in such long hours? 

Although architects are notorious for working ridiculously long hours, this may not necessarily be the main cause of the stress you’re feeling. It’s more likely to be the pressure you are under to perform and perform to a high standard. There’s a kind of machismo that goes with the long work hours culture, which produces it’s own anxiety about being seen to remain in the office or studio when other ‘lightweights’ or ‘less ambitious’ colleagues have gone home. This can often create an unbearable conflict for some manifesting itself particularly (though not exclusively) in women if they are relied on to provide the primary care for children.

When the candle is being burned at both ends it’s usually because of some kind of deadline. As you point out, you’re working on a competition, so importance given to any slip or mistake is weightier than it would normally be. Deadlines also mean tempers get frayed, niceties are forgotten, old resentments can resurface without the time being available to deal with them.

Long hours are stressful too because they inevitably mean that you are missing out on other things in life. Very often this is family life. Feelings emerge about letting a partner down regarding a child’s bedtime or help with homework, care of elderly relatives can become a point of friction too. Friendships may be strained when yet another social engagement is broken. So it is the stress of not being a good wife, father, partner, daughter, friend or lover as much as the challenge of being a good employee that can start to become poisonous.

But it’s not just long hours. Eating badly and not getting enough exercise can also exacerbate stress. Staying in the studio past midnight as you are inevitably means that meals are scoffed hunched up over screens, that the food and drink consumed is work-fuel like carbohydrates, salts and sugars and they can be harsh on the vital organs. Caffeine, and other stimulants not so easily found in a drinks machine, is often the late night workers’ friend but in the longer term they’ll prove a formidable enemy too.

There can be upsides to long hours worked – camaraderie and after hours banter for example, but these could equally well be forged in the pub, or over lunch.  With very few exceptions, it’s always worth asking are those extra hours in the studio really necessary?

Archiboo was advised by Camilla Nicholls.

Camilla Nicholls is a psychodynamic psychotherapist who works in private practice and within the NHS. She is also a founding member of The Counselling Company, a consortium of therapists who share a background of working in the media, arts, design and fashion industries.