If you’re like too many of us, you’ve had days where you spent hour after hour connected to a screen or a phone or a desk or the task in front of you. That’s no way to live, no matter who you are or what you do. It adds stress to your life (and all the problems associated with it) and it robs you of joy. You may not be able to get away for a vacation or even a long weekend, but you can definitely take a little break. You literally owe it to yourself. Here are some ideas to help motivate you and get you started on the break time habit, whether you have five minutes or a few hours.
In today’s gig economy, the reality for many is that time off equals unpaid time. Thought it’s not always easy, carving out mental breaks is crucial for our mental health and well-being. Even a short break can be restorative when we’re super intentional about how we spend it. And for those of us who are allotted a set amount of vacation time each year, statistics show that Americans don’t use all of their vacation days. And even when they do, they often fail to leave work at the office. It seems that many of us simply don’t know how to take a break from work.
Taking a break cures decision fatigue.
Are you ever plowing through work, determined to get every last thing done on your to-do list, when suddenly you hit a mental block? One where your brain just can’t seem to focus or even function properly anymore? Turns out, there’s a biological reason called decision fatigue. Sustained mental attention depletes our mental energy when we don’t take breaks. Our pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for logical thinking and willpower, actually becomes worn down and fatigued. The solve? Giving it a rest to replenish our energy.
It restores our excitement for our goals.
Have you ever been so enthusiastic about a new project that you talked yourself into biting off way more than you could chew? (Guilty.) Especially when you’re afraid of missing an exciting opportunity, it’s easy to overcommit–but after a few days of working around the clock, you’re hit with the mental block, and the momentum you started with has suddenly disappeared.
Taking high-quality breaks gives our minds the reset–or “deactivation”–they need to restore that original excitement.
Taking breaks sparks creativity.
This is a tough one for me, since I tend to get really focused on a task at hand and have to tear myself away from the computer screen when I’m ploughing through a working project. But I’ve noticed that when I try to “power through” without breaks, the quality of my thinking majorly suffers–and it actually slows me down, since after an hour of staring at my computer screen, the fresh ideas come more slowly and I end up having to scrap much of the writing that I did when my brain was fried.
Research shows that taking a walk sparks more creative, imaginative ideas than simply sitting and thinking. So lately, I’ve been setting a timer to force myself to get up and walk around the block, or even just walk into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, or have a 5-minute conversation with my sister, or a friend. The result? I return to my work with a fresh perspective. On a larger scale, taking a few days or more of vacation time gives our creative selves a full-on reset, and so often when I’m in relaxation mode, I’m able to think more expansively than when I’m in the day-to-day details of a workday.
So, now that you’re convinced you need a break…
Here’s how to take a break from work that’s truly restorative:
There are a few very specific habits I’ve put in place that help me squeeze the most juice out of my time away. Some of these, I created on that first “intentional vacation” I experienced–others I’ve added through the years to truly disconnect and get rejuvenated during my time off.
Unplug and undo
Shut down all the electronic distractions. Computer, tablet, phone, all of it–anything that can ping or flash or catch your attention. Spend some time in the world or in your own mind.
Make time to play
Focus on ways you can have fun and get re-energized. Whether it’s a solitary hike or dinner and a movie with friends, enjoy yourself.
Spend time with your pet
Walking, cleaning, and feeding, or having a snuggle, spend time with an animal you love.
Take a bath
There are few things in the world more relaxing than a hot bath.
Meditation is one of the best tools to give yourself a mental and emotional break. Ten minutes of stillness can make all the difference. By clearing your mind and relaxing, you rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul
Listen to music
Music can lift your mood, regulate your energy, and take you back in time.
Eat something you love
When was the last time you allowed yourself to indulge in something that you love to eat? Treat yourself to something delicious.
Dance up a storm
No one is watching, so put on your favorite song and lose yourself in movement.
Have an adventure
Check out a part of town you’ve never been to, take a day trip to a local winery, or spend time reliving the happy memories at a special place.