It’s the same story for millions of people all over the world: get to work before sunrise, spend the day in an artificially-lit room and arrive home after sunset. But, is this relentless pursuit of the corporate dream really a good design for a life well-lived?
Having swapped the trials and tribulations of commuting into London for the freedom of remote working, my answer is a genuine, heartfelt no. Here’s why.
Daylight and fresh air
It’s no secret that daylight and fresh air play a part in maintaining mental health. From the direct health benefits of vitamin D absorption to the calming effect of spending time outdoors, they are two of the best tonics for depression and anxiety. Two tonics, incidentally, that many commuting city-workers do not get enough of.
I have battled with one form of anxiety or another on and off across my adult life, but it was during my sixth year commuting daily from Essex to Soho that my mental health took a real battering. It crept up on me like a small, growling dog until my anxiety dominated almost every other thought. The commute was always the worst external trigger.
I used to dash off the Tube because of unattended bags. I started avoiding crowds and large social gatherings. I became sensitive to artificial light and mechanical sounds, while my working environment grew more oppressive, as I absorbed all the conflicting energies of an open plan office. I once even ended up in hospital experiencing chest pains and breathlessness, [which turned out to be the worst panic attack of my life] doing absolutely nothing but sitting at my desk.
Exhausted from being constantly on high alert, I took up yoga, meditation, spinning, a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and an antidepressant, citalopram. A combination of all these things helped me resolve my internal triggers, but the external triggers still waged their relentless war upon my state of mind.
The turning point
Then, last year, I had my epiphany. I was at my train station one spring morning as the sun was shining and the birds were singing. I turned my face skyward, my ears tuned to the bird song, and I inhaled the sounds and sights of nature. I felt so peaceful, but so sad, as I knew that once I got on this train, I wouldn’t feel the sun or hear the birds again that day. Everyone else seemed oblivious to the beauty around them, heads down, concentrating on their devices, headphones in, staring out towards the approaching train like drones. I didn’t belong there anymore.
I’d like to say that I turned around and never went back to the office after that, but alas this is real life and I had a notice period. However, the sparrows and sunlight had convinced me to make a drastic change.
I joined FYXER in August 2018 and the transformation was unbelievable. I was able to work in my garden surrounded by plants and birds whizzing overhead. I could walk my dog in a nearby country park each lunchtime, letting my mind rest and my body move for a good hour each day. I made connections with my local community, seeing the same faces each day on my daily errands. I no longer felt threatened outside of my house, at last!
Meanwhile, having purposefully isolated myself away from society, my FYXER family became my ‘tribe’, connecting over daily Slack messages and video calls; a much more suitable method for an introvert at heart than impromptu watercooler chats. I can get out into nature whenever I need it, instead of when my employer allows me to, and my mental health has never been so good.
The restorative power of remote working
I can’t blame my working arrangements entirely for my anxiety struggles, but I am certain, because of how different I feel now, that feverishly running the rat race was having a detrimental effect on my mind.
Now, my commute consists of walking downstairs at 08:00, instead of being squashed onto a packed train with hundreds of other disgruntled worker bees. I am filled with gratitude each time I open my laptop in the garden and settle into my daily routine. My vitamin D levels are where they should be, my mind is calm and focused and I can safely say that the external triggers for my anxiety have been laid to rest.
I have FYXER and the remote working revolution to thank for reconstructing my life and helping heal my mental health.