Why is it so important we take breaks?

It is a common mentality that continuously working until exhaustion without breaks demonstrates a good work ethic. In certain situations, we are tempted (and sometimes encouraged) to push ourselves as much as possible. For example, during exam season, or when starting at a new job and trying to make a good first impression.

Culturally, we seem to aim to work until we drop – exhaustion acting as our badge of honour. Not only is this mentality pushed within the workplace, but on social media by fellow peers. Social media provides a key hole view into people’s lives. This view usually focuses on success and activeness rather than relaxation.

Nevertheless, taking breaks is always important! And it is important we take them regularly, especially during times of elevated busyness and stress.

What happens when we don’t take breaks?

  • Mental illness. Over-working can lead to elevated anxiety levels and stress. Without breaks we end up underperforming, which we then try to overcompensate for by working even more! This then plays into our sense of self- worth and self-efficacy, usually negatively.
  • Physical illness. Stress in particular is associated with certain physical symptoms. This includes IBS, headaches and even the production of stomach ulcers. A lack of breaks can also weaken the immune system, increasing the chances of becoming ill.
  • Burnout. We experience this when we are emotionally and/or mentally exhausted due to prolonged stress. Symptoms of burnout include: self-doubt, a lack of motivation and feeling irritable. If you would like to read our blog on burnout, click here.
  • No time and energy for hobbies. Maintaining hobbies is really important as they can be a source of joy and creativity. There is a sense of achievement when building upon skills, including those that are not work/school-related.

How do breaks benefit us?

There seems to be this misconception that not resting and fitting in breaks reflects a stronger character. This, of course, is untrue. In fact, it is the opposite. Considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, ‘rest’ is at the very bottom- it is part of the foundation of our most vital needs. See the image below.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Breaks and rest are at the foundation of our needs!

So denying yourself rest and breaks will have massively negative effects. But what do we gain from these breaks?

  • You avoid the above! Getting plenty of rest provides your body and mind the chance to recuperate, helping to avoid illness. For example, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is improved with regular rest and sleep. With mental health, breaks and rest are pretty much ‘prescribed’ in treatment! It helps you recover from stress and return your mental functioning to its baseline.
  • Better work performance and productivity. Rest allows your mental resources to replenish, allowing you to work more efficiently and to a higher standard.

How do we fit those breaks in?

  • Timetable/checklist for your day. Without planning, it can be tempting to get through several tasks without consideration. Without such a plan, we may set unreasonable expectations onto ourselves and not set aside time to relax. Try to write up a timetable or plan, and write in times to have breaks.
  • 45 minute : 15 minute Rule. Realistically we can not maintain active concentration for more than 45 minutes without stopping. With every 45 minutes of work, rest for 15 minutes to help maintain concentration and an efficient but fair work ethic.
  • Pomodoro technique: You break your workday into 25-minute parts, separated by five-minute breaks. After four pomodoros, you take a longer break (about 15 to 20 minutes).
  • Apps! There are brilliant apps out there to help monitor how much you have worked compared to rested. For example, there’s a free app called ‘Forest‘ that plants virtual trees each time you work for a set amount of time. It also stops the tree from growing if you go off the app, stopping you from using your phone and getting distracted. Try alternating from the work to rest options – this will help you see that amount of time you’ve worked, whilst encouraging those well-earned breaks!

Could Brighter Life Therapy help?

If you are struggling and self-help is not enough, we are here to help. Here at Birghter Life Therapy we offer CBT and counseling sessions to children and adults. You can read about our service here. Please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108, or by emailing info@brighterlifetherapy.co.uk.

You can also follow us on our Instagram and Facebook for more information about intolerance of uncertainty and other mental health discussions.

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