We bought 2 new rabbits. We’re both very excited about it and so I’m stretching the limits of credibility and shaping a work-related blog around them and seeing if I can make a serious point. Will I be successful? Hopefully more so than Wile E Coyote (see what I did there? No, me neither. This could be a bumpy ride).
Firstly a bit about the rabbits before we get onto the meat of the blog (rabbits were introduced to Britain in the 12th century by the Normans to use for their meat (and fur). But that’s not why we got them).
We have adopted 2 female Rex rabbits from the RSPCA. One of our previous rabbits, Holly, was a rex, so we are familiar with the breed. Rexs were bred for their fur and they have a really thick soft coat. Holly was a black rex, so her fur was like velvet, these 2 are both mainly white, but their coats are just as soft. They were rescued by the RSPCA from a rabbit breeder, and they were probably used to breed from at too young an age, so they’re a little bit smaller than a rex should be. They’re both around 2 years old and are probably sisters. They have a lot of energy (particularly compared to our former elderly rabbits) and are causing havoc in the house – which is exactly why we bought them. They were called Ruby and Rapunzel, but we renamed Rapunzel and she’s now called Alice. Neither of them respond to their names yet, but they will in time.
Right. On with the show.
The benefit of pets
So why did we get new pets? There have been many studies over the years about the benefits of pets, so probably all of these apply here. But I think for those of us who work from home there are extra benefits, or some of the well-known benefits are amplified.
One basic benefit is the time out you need to spend taking care of your pet. It forces you to get away from your desk, and that gives you chance to stetch your legs, think things through a little and rest your eyes if you’re staring at a screen all day. I was always a little jealous of smokers when I worked with other people as they got those extra breaks that us non-smokers didn’t, but for home workers with pets (or people who work where there are office dogs) they get the extra breaks too. And above that, dog owners can build a pseudo-commute into their day and that can have great psychological benefits in separating work time from non-work time. For those of us who work alone it can be quite easy to get so absorbed in our work that we forget to take breaks, so having a pet can force us to remember to step away once in a while and rest our eyes, ears and brains and get new perspective on what we’re doing while we walk/toilet/stroke/feed our pet. Being more productive by doing less. I like it!
So your workday routine can be broken up in a good way – let’s call it punctuated – by your pet. But I think there are greater benefits as well.
Restorative effects of nature
Many studies have been done into the restorative effects that nature can have on us, and pets do qualify as a part of nature.
Studies have been done (I tried to find a link, but the only one I found was a Daily Mail article, and I’m not linking to that) that suggest that if you’re in hospital you’ll recover quicker if you can see out of a window. You’ll do even better if you can see a tree out of that window and better still if you can see a park or open space. Other studies have shown that stroking your pet offers stress relief to both you and your pet.
Pets are great company. If you ever meet a pet owner who claims they don’t talk to their pet they’re either a psychopath or a liar! For those of us who work alone from home having ‘someone’ to talk to during the day is a great source of comfort and companionship. I know when I go away on a Studio Tickling Tour, Helen greatly appreciates the company of the rabbits. When I first moved to this side of the Pennines I lived in a very rough part of Salford and was glad of my rabbit at night when I heard noises as I could tell myself it was the rabbit shuffling around in her hutch rather than having to contemplate the sinister alternative.
So our general mental health can be helped by having a pet. It’s not a given that it will, and we still need to take heed of the below, but it helps.
I’ve kind of hinted at a few things people ‘know all about’ above, and briefly outlined how pet ownership can help with those things. But what about those people without pets who can’t have them – for whatever reason? Never fear, all is not lost. Pets can help us automatically track these things, but we can manage our own time, health and workload without them.
The UK (and I think the US) has one of the most unhealthy work cultures in the world. It’s not uncommon to see people brag on social media about constantly working 60 hour weeks and getting only 3 hours of sleep a night as if this is a badge of honour (or honor if you’re that way inclined). It is demonstrably proven that we need to strike that sometimes elusive work/life balance, and our long-term health (let alone mental health) will suffer if we fail to take time out from work to look at the view. Pets definitely help with that, but there are fairly easy other steps you can take if you don’t have their benefit.
Over lockdown Helen and I found ourselves working a lot more of the weekends than usual because there was bugger all else to do. When we realised it wasn’t doing us any good we put a stop to it, and we still do our best to not have to work at the weekend if possible. It doesn’t always work out, but it does mean that we have to justify having to do it and that means we work a minimum amount at weekends. Having hobbies that take you out of the house (and preferably out of phone reception) can help with that as well. A dog walk, a bike ride, a run or a normal-just-you-no-pet walk will stop you staring at the same 4 walls 24/7, get you a bit of exercise and helps to keep you on an even keel.
Recognise your creativity
A lot of the work culture we endure is built around a corporate world. In that world it doesn’t matter what mood you’re in, the numbers still need crunching and whether you’re happy, sad, angry, euphoric or sleepy the end results will be the same. This is not at all true for those of us who work in creative industries. Our mood and state of mind absolutely affects the outcome of our labours. We need to be in a comfortable environment to be at our best, and if we’re on edge that can easily come across in the work we produce.
Sometimes we need to acknowledge that and blow work off for a time, or get on with something else to take our mind off whatever it is that’s getting us riled. Different ‘hobbies’ will have different effects on our state of mind, sometimes we’ll benefit from giving ourselves space to think through the issue(s), sometimes we want something that will fully occupy our mind so whatever it is can be forgotten.
For me a bike ride or a walk will give me space to contemplate, but if I need to occupy my mind a couple of hours on the Xbox usually sets my head back on the right tracks. I love playing on the Xbox, but I have a rule that I don’t switch it on until mid-afternoon, or I could spend an entire day gaming, but there have been a couple of days recently where I’ve just woken up in a funk and resorted to some morning gaming. That breaking of the rules has allowed me to crack on with a productive afternoon of work, whereas previously I would probably have just sat and stewed in my studio all day and got nothing done. Being more productive by doing less. I like it!
Downtime is not a waste of time
This is one of the biggest lessons Helen and I have had to learn since becoming self-employed. We do work hard. We love what we do and we could work very long hours if we chose to do so, but we try our best to manage our time so we still get chance to do those things we love to do that aren’t work-related. Some weekends we have things to do (jobs around the house, family to see, events to attend) and other weekends we have none of the above. Sometimes on those weekends we spends entire days barely moving from the sofa. It can feel very lazy, and we do try not to do it too often, but sometimes a day off should be a day off everything. Our work culture has driven into us that we need to be constantly occupied.
I remember years ago going camping in Edale and next to our pitch were a group of about half a dozen yuppies (they were actual yuppies – it was that long ago). They’d come camping, but they’d brought along cricket sets, rounders sets, footballs, quoits, beanbags, hoops and giant Jenga so that they could be constantly occupied and not just take the time to be. I thought it was a wasted opportunity. I think there is huge value in just being. Stopping the doing, and just rest.
Call to action
Helen always insists on there being a call to action in our blogs. But I think today there should be a call to inaction.
Take 5 minutes for yourself. Look out of the window, make yourself a brew, stoke your cat/dog/rabbit/hamster/fish, whatever you get a chance to do for a bit of self-care. I’m going to tickle a rabbit.