Take a break – it’s worth it

22. October 2019 / general
resilience

We live in a performance-driven society where people think it is bad to take a break. But they are wrong: Breaks are a sensible investment in your health and your ability to function efficiently. We need evenings, weekends and vacations to recuperate so that we can be productive again afterwards. We also need to take a number of micro breaks during the day, since our body and brain are not designed to work 8 to 10 hours at a time.

Our lives are shaped by contrasts and by poles that influence each other: Ebb and flow, north and south, magnetic forces that attract or repel each other, yin and yang, etc. Equally, you could say that there can be no stress without relaxation. In other words: We have to recover in order to function efficiently (one of my guiding principles, as my regular readers no doubt know…).

So why is that the case – and what does recovery actually mean? Recovery is a process during which our physical functions are restored to their original state. It is like a type of reset and, at the same time, the stress hormone cortisol is broken down. Afterwards, we regain our ability to absorb information and function efficiently. This means that we need to have alternating periods of activity and recovery.

 

No breaks mean no resilience

What happens if we don’t want to take a break? Our ability to think and concentrate decreases as the flow of blood to the central nervous system in the brain is reduced over time. We become uncreative and are no longer able to think clearly and logically, which may cause us to make rash decisions. We also react irrationally and perhaps even aggressively. In other words: We become less resilient if we don’t take a break.

For a while, a drop in performance can be compensated for by making more effort. But over the longer term, overwork leads to cardiovascular problems, an increased risk of injury, depression, burnout and other illnesses such as strokes – the risk of which increases by a third once a person starts working more than 55 hours per week. At the same time, productivity declines once this threshold is reached – so if you work more, you don’t get more done… you actually get less done!

 

Daydreaming increases your concentration

Free evenings, weekends and vacations are therefore a prerequisite to remain healthy and function efficiently over the long term. Studies show, for example, that people who hardly ever go on vacation are more likely to suffer a heart attack. Even just thinking about and planning future holidays does people good and helps them to relax. Other studies show that job satisfaction is higher if you take shorter or longer breaks from work every now and then. This includes periods of digital detox – since free time is not really free otherwise.

Allowing yourself periods away from work is also beneficial for the brain – enabling it to deal with the topics it wants to process and allowing creativity to develop. In addition, daydreaming promotes concentration and makes you less impulsive. To prevent yourself from thinking about work in the evening and at weekends, write down any open issues and tasks before going home. And make a note of what you have done well today – that will put you in a positive mood.

With the hectic pace of daily life and a full program of activities even during their free time, many people have forgotten how to tell what is good for them. Try to think about where and how you can best relax and incorporate this into your weekly routine. In the evening, it is advisable to do some exercise (sport or walking), as this reduces stress hormones and increases your circulation. That said, you should avoid following the same hectic pace during your free time and enjoy a few moments of leisure. You can find out how to do this here: LINK. And make sure you get enough sleep to rest and recuperate properly – you can find out more about this here:  LINK and LINK.

 

Multiple short breaks are better than one long break

We always need to take longer breaks but short breaks are also important while working. Many people think they can’t take breaks during working hours in case they can’t complete all their tasks or are regarded as lazy. But they are wrong because our body functions according to the BRAC principle: ‘Basic Rest Activity Cycle’. Nathaniel Kleitmann, the father of sleep research, discovered that the brain goes through different phases of concentration during sleep and wakefulness. After a maximum of 90-100 minutes, we inevitably become tired and our attention and concentration are reduced.

This means that we need so-called ‘micro breaks’ (lasting between a few seconds and a few minutes) during the day in order to remain efficient from morning until night. These micro breaks are much more important than taking a long break, because recovery is greatest in the first few minutes. What form could these micro breaks take?

 

 

You therefore need to be aware that people who keep going without regularly resting and recuperating are putting both their health and their career at risk over the long term. Plan your recovery time – it won’t just happen by itself!

 

©  Claudia Kraaz

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