“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes... including you.”
~ Anne Lamott
Could you imagine what 3 to 4-year olds would be like at the end of a school day if they did not get a break? Imagine picking up your child and he or she did not have nap time, recess, snack time or—God forbid—lunch. How would they behave? I’ll tell you how. You would have a whole bunch of cranky kids in full-blown temper tantrums, and a teacher tied up by the end of the day.
Wouldn’t you be mortified if your child did not have those energy releases (i.e. recess) and energy refreshers (i.e. naps and lunch)? Well, adults need the same thing. Am I comparing children and adults?
We like to mark a significant change in the way we behave once we’re adults. Of course, there are obvious differences between children and adults; however, growth, development, and work, all require the use of those same cognitive faculties that ultimately need breaks. Take a pre-school classroom and change it out for an office space. Now, imagine if everyone in the office did not have breakfast, coffee or tea, a break (maybe two), cigarette stop, lunch, or even a snack-size box of raisins. Adult-sized temper tantrums.
Photo by Chris Benson
When students are distracted, tired, and antsy, or even before then, we give them what are called “brain breaks.” During “brain breaks” we allow them to focus on creative activities, do fun exercises, meditate, or something of the like. Their minds are taken off their academic tasks. They release energy, refresh their minds, and regroup in preparation to complete or start their tasks.
Surprisingly, the one thing we were encouraged to have while kids, we get less of and sometimes ward off the older we get. After Kindergarten, there are no more nap times. After elementary school no more snack time or recess. Come high school breaks are scarce. College? Forget it. You’re falling asleep in class. Enter later into that 9 to 5 and you may be like me— wishing you could just pull a cot out at the office and go to sleep.
Photo by The Creative Exchange
Working non-stop can be precarious. And yes, being a work-a-holic can, indeed, kill you (sorry for getting morbid). Mental exhaustion is not as easily recognizable as physical exhaustion. It has become common nature for many adults to press beyond their physical fatigue further than they would physical fatigue (guilty here too.) If a runner’s leg cramps up on them, undoubtedly, they will take a break. Meanwhile, in the office, if you have a headache or feel the afternoon heavy, take some Aleve or get a fifth cup of coffee and keep it moving. What you really should have done, though, is taken a break.
Working and learning are both mentally draining. Nothing goes in (in regards to learning) or out (produced with work) if our cognitive faculties are depleted. Even if you feel breaks are unwarranted, they are crucial to productivity, creative passion, and health. So even if you are not a full-time employee, work a regular 8-hour workday, you can still benefit from taking a break.
Photo by Sarah Swinton
Getting and Staying Productive
You may go into the workday with a goal set to accomplish and then feel worn out by midday. Taking breaks resets your mind to work again. Performance levels can be increased by alleviating boredom, boosting work efficiency, and re-evaluating work objectives. This leads to projects being better accurately completed, increased individual effort, refreshed awareness, and lower work-related accidents.
Renewed Creative Passion
Ideas do not flow all the time. Even the best creatives get stuck in a rut or encounter a block. Stepping away serves a better purpose than staring at perhaps a blank or incomplete canvas. Do ever get those awesome ideas that just come out of nowhere, especially when you’re doing nothing related to that idea at all? The brief interruption given by a break helps you to continue processing your task. Just as how the subconscious helps with conflict resolution, pulling away from your work allows you to return with fresh ideas and a reinvigorated spirit.
No matter how much you love your job, whether you are working for someone else or yourself, there are moments that become overwhelming—stressful. When stress sets in, even the sweetest of people will transform like the sour pouch candies. We all know the signs: negative attitudes or behavior, impatience, and lack of enthusiasm. Instead of becoming demoralized by heavy workloads and exasperated by colleagues, it is better to remove yourself from the situation to keep your mental state intact. Enduring persistence stress takes a toll on your overall health and well-being. Take a moment. Privately indulge in some chocolate. Take a breather outside. Scroll through some baby animal pictures. Meditating and other mindful practices have been shown to increase compassion. Do whatever is needed to avoid stress.
Be Happy, Be Healthy (Yes, Cheerios has it right!)
Finally, at the end of the day, it boils down to health. Not taking a break is an unhealthy practice. Yes, we all want to do well on our jobs, in accomplishing those personal goals, and other life facets. We want to be successful, but it’s impossible when our brains are on 0%. (Try driving on E… under E). Not to mention stress and other ailments may persist as a result of not taking a break. You are more likely to be susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Every little bit of activity contributes to your overall health. If escaping 20 minutes in the middle of the day will help my mid-section and give me peace, it’s worth it.
Try taking a break today; be it work, school, or extra. Step away from your desk or computer screen at least once. Put down the phone. Bookmark that page in your school text. Now, if you go into work at 9:00 a.m. and leave at 5:00 p.m., don’t take your first break at 3:55 p.m. It is best to space out your breaks, even better— schedule them. Take a walk, meditate, or even take a nap. Whatever you do, retreat from your task for a little while to stay healthy, sane, and productive.