women drinking wine while having a beauty treatment

‘What’s a weekend?’ was the question posed incredulously by the Dowager Countess of Grantham in the award-winning series ‘Downton Abbey’. We howled with laughter at the time at the exquisite irony of a senior member of the British aristocracy not understanding the separate concepts of work and play. ‘Weekdays’ – it was explained to her – ‘were days scheduled for lesser mortals to work for the pay that would earn them the right to time off – to a weekend of rest and relaxation.’ The Dowager still didn’t get it. So, we laughed some more.    

We’re not laughing now.

Thanks to the totally unexpected circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rush to remote working, ‘What’s a weekend?’ suddenly has a genuine ring to it. Many people are discovering that their days and nights have morphed into just one concept of time. The Now.

 In an excellent article in The Economist Magazine (November 27, 2020) entitled: ‘Mindfulness is useless in a pandemic,’ the author, Catherine Nixey, proposes that the ‘Now’ is not a concept you want to be too mindful of  these days. It is fraught with too much worry. The author suggests that it is far better to spend time daydreaming about a vacation in a far-flung beach resort than remaining mindful – in the Now. That rings true when you consider that the reality for many of us these days is being sandwiched between an attention-seeking toddler and a humming washing machine, while struggling to prepare a presentation for that all-important Zoom call. Yes, the Now has lost its luster. At least for now.      

There is not much focus on the future because from where we stand today, it looks bleak and blurry. Out the window goes the excitement of planning ahead for a fun weekend with friends. Singing and dancing are mostly forbidden. And as for hugging and handshaking? You’ve got to be kidding.        

A survey entitled: ‘CEO Benchmarking Report 2021′, carried out among 160 CEOs by The Predictive Index® reveals that ’employee performance and productivity’ are the number one concern among 56% of the CEOs interviewed.

Performance and productivity are strongly linked to energy and engagement. Without adequate rest and relaxation, people run out of steam. And everyone, as well as business and the overall economy, loses.

Even the very thought that up ahead – in a couple of days – is an opportunity to switch off from work and unwind triggers the endorphins that spur our engagement. The Economist article points out that hope for the future and expecting good times provide us with the fuel to keep going towards that reward moment.

it isn’t as though we weren’t stressed in the ‘past’ but there was a certain level of good stress bound up with it – called Eustress – that kept the adrenalin pumping as we barreled towards the reward of the weekend. 

Even the placebo effect works. Several airlines recently hit on a novel way to support their ailing businesses by offering ‘flights to nowhere’, where passengers bought tickets, went to the airport, stood in line, handed over their passports and boarded a plane that was going effectively nowhere  besides up into the clouds and back to the same tarmac within an hour and a half. The Singapore Airlines version of that event was even more startling. The passengers showed up to the airport. To eat lunch, or dinner. On board. While the plane was parked on the tarmac. There was no take-off. No landing. But there was excitement.     

Last year, we would have howled with laughter if we had heard that story just as we laughed at the Dowager’s question. But now, we just raise an eyebrow and consider buying a ticket that will create a sense of expectation and excitement for some future event.

Hope and positive expectation are key to our mental health. We need something to look forward to.      

‘The Economist’ article quotes Sir Colin Blakemore, neuroscientist at Oxford University and the City University of Hong Kong: ‘Planning is key to our physical survival.’ he says.’ It is also central to our emotional well-being. The joy we take in planning is as valid as the event itself…’ 

I can testify to that. Before taking a vacation trip, I do what I call a ‘dummy run’ a week or so before I leave, pulling out all my vacation clothes, trying them on, putting outfits together and even packing my suitcase.

I tell my husband that I am just getting organized so that there will be no panic on the day, but really, what I’m doing is more about feeling the thrill of going on vacation. And having two shots at it!  

I know; you’re laughing now.

Have a deliberately good weekend! You deserve it.