Have you ever found yourself working through your lunch break? Perhaps you have thought to yourself “I’ll eat after I finish this one more task…” or “I’ll take a longer lunch break tomorrow…” or “none of my co-workers are taking their lunch break so I don’t want to look uncommitted…”
Have you ever found yourself staying up significantly past your bed time to study for a test or finish a project? Perhaps you have thought to yourself “I’ll sleep after this one last chapter…” or ignored a text message from a friend thinking “I’ll respond after I get this finished…”
If you have, you are not unlike many other individuals who care deeply about their work and school. You may be working through your lunch break or staying up late studying because you want to do well. You want to be an excellent employee, you want to produce high calibre work, you want to ace that exam, you want to get into graduate school; and that’s okay. However, recent research has demonstrated that overworking ourselves does not make us more productive or successful. In fact, taking regular breaks actually increases productivity and success in the workplace.
The Benefits of Taking Breaks
Growing research suggests that there are many benefits of taking regular breaks while working on school/work. One of the first, and most important, reasons we should take more regular breaks is that taking breaks prevent burnout. What is burnout? Burnout refers to the physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion that occurs when we do not prioritize self-care. When we are burnt out, we are not able to be our best, produce our best work and achieve our goals. Taking regular breaks prevents burnout. By taking regular breaks, and prioritizing self-care, we ensure our physical, mental and/or emotional well-being.
Breaks also keep us from getting bored and distracted. When we are in the flow of something, we are focused on the task and can often get a lot done. But that level of focus is not sustainable for extended periods, and if we keep going past the threshold of our attention span, we will start to get bored, unfocused, and distracted (look, a squirrel). You might find yourself zoning out, or realize that you’ve just read something and have no idea what it says. This is your brain tapping out because it is fatigued. This phenomenon is familiar to most people and it is essentially your brain taking a forced break, although these breaks tend not to be very restorative. The best course of action to combat this is to allow yourself the time and space to take regular short breaks, so that you can get back to the task at hand refreshed and more productive.
Taking breaks also improves motivation, productivity and creativity. A recent study revealed that employees who took longer, more relaxing lunch breaks experience decreases in end-of-day stress and fatigue. They also reported increased concentration and productivity throughout their work day. By taking breaks, and ensuring those breaks are relaxing, employees were able to increase the calibre of work they produced. Finally, taking breaks can help increase creativity and problem solving. If you stay focused on one work task, or keep studying for one exam, for long periods of time, you are not giving yourself enough mental energy to think creatively. By taking breaks during work or studying, you give yourself time to think creatively, ultimately performing better on the tasks at hand.
Suggestions for Breaks
• Take a walk outside. The psychological benefits of getting up and moving our bodies are well-documented and will allow you to return to your school/work relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated.
• If you can’t get outside, then change your environment. Go work in a coffee shop, the library, or a shared conference room. The change of scenery will help reset your brain and give you a refreshing boost of energy.
• Try doing a short meditation. Even if you only have 15 minutes, close your door and try doing a short meditation. Clear your mind of all your stress and anxiety, and commit to focusing on yourself for 15 minutes. There are many apps and you tube videos that provided guided meditations to help you with this.
• Have a healthy snack. Pack healthy snacks for yourself and take regular “snack breaks” throughout your work day or studying period to give your body a time out and the necessary fuel to keep yourself going.
• Socialize. We often avoid chatting with our colleagues and/or peers while working; but taking a 10-minute social break can be a good thing. Preface it as such! Perhaps say to your colleague “Hey, I’m feeling like I need to take a 5- to 10-minute mental break from this work right now. Would you like to chat with me for 5-10 minutes?”
• Remind yourself that by taking a break, taking time to refuel and re-energize, you are setting yourself up to be even more productive and successful.
Want more information? Don’t forget to check out our list of resources, including books on anxiety and other topics here: http://waterloocbt.ca/resources/
Authors: Lindsey Erin Feltis, MA Candidate and Dr. Dubravka Gavric, C. Psych.