The Ergonomics of Emotional Labor
Work is work, and you gotta stay safe and sound while supporting the ones you love.
Recognize, acknowledge, and share emotional labor more thoughtfully and equitably 2016
Whether it’s keeping up with group texts or giving hugs or greeting everyone we meet with a smile, we’re doing emotional labor all damn day long. Enmeshed into our every activity, these “repeated, taxing and under-acknowledged acts” can take a toll not only on our own emotional well-being, but also our bodies and physical health. After all, work is work (even if people have a hard time seeing it, as they tend to do with other kinds of gendered/feminized labor, like domestic work and sex work).
So, here’s some quick tips to help you care for your body, avoid hazards, and stay safe as you go about your daily business sustaining and supporting those around you.
1. Cellphone use
You might be busy texting all day and night for a billion different reasons, like: coordinating dinner plans, talking a friend through a break up, sexting, reminding your roommates about rent and also that it’s raining, so take an umbrella, there’s one on the bookshelf you can use, and so on.
- Alternate hands when holding your phone and use a neutral grip – keep your wrist straight, not bent in either direction.
- Rest your thumbs! Use alternative fingers for a while.
- Keep an upright posture. Avoid bending your head down and rounding your shoulders. This probably also means don’t text all curled up in bed, for example.
- Keep your screen clean to help with eye fatigue.
- Blinking can help refocus your eyes, and cut down on irritation. Try blinking about 10 times every 20 minutes.
2. Small talk with toddlers
Maybe you run into your nanny friend at the park, or your cousin needs you to watch her baby for a quick sec, or the neighbor’s kids recruit you to be the human launching pad for their slam dunk contest … Even when kids aren’t part of our immediate lives, there’s still plenty of ways we interact with and care for them. And that means we often need to literally get on their level, sometimes dropping into a dangerously low squat to see eye-to-eye and be generally less intimidating.
- Instead of just bending and squatting, kneel on one or both knees. This will also allow you to move with the child, who might be running amok.
- Use a wall, furniture, or a large pillow for back support.
3. Smiling all day
Appearing cheery, or even just expressive, takes a toll on your facial muscles. To mitigate muscle fatigue, try not to hold a smile or expression for too long, and instead go for repeated, brief contractions. I don’t know how that’s gonna look, but could be worth a shot.
4. Getting someone out of bed
If you’re responsible for waking someone up (whether implied or mutually agreed upon), you might be tempted “to throw a fit and wake them up by jumping on the bed and screaming at the top of your lungs." To avoid hurting yourself and the other person, perhaps try sitting on the edge of the bed (ideally, with feet touching the floor and without twisting your spine).
5. Remembering things and making decisions
Planning to meetup with friends, keeping track of people’s schedules and preferences, deciding where to go for dinner or what to cook, all require robust working memory, thinking, and communication proccesses. Tasks that require active maintenance and processing of details result in unnecessary loading of working memory; also contributing to this burden are situations that require constant switching between tasks or multi-tasking.
- Visualizations and external memory aids can help unload some of this work.
- Thinking and communication should take place in teams, where more than one person is involved in problem solving and decision making. Scripts for encouraging that behavior are perhaps forthcoming.