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Why you need to be taking breaks (and what happens when you don't)

We may know that we need breaks, but are we actually taking the breaks that we need? In this post I share three resources to inspire you to incorporate breaks into your everyday rhythms. The featured articles cover findings from research studies, to what's at stake when we don't take breaks, and practical ways to embed breaks in your daily routines - from micro-breaks to longer vacations.

Resource 1: A reminder that when we don't take breaks, we put our wellbeing and health at risk, not just our productivity

by Elizabeth Scott PhD,

medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman PhD

published by Very Well Mind

  • this article discusses the risks of not taking breaks, signs you need a break, the benefits of taking a break, and how to take a break

Here are some words from Dr Elizabeth Scott that many of us need to hear:

"When you take a break, you're not shirking responsibility. You're taking care of yourself so you'll have the stamina to be your best. By learning how to watch for the signs that you need a break, you'll be able to schedule some time away that will help you feel more refreshed and restored."

" The body is designed to respond to short bursts of stress. When stress is prolonged and the stress response is triggered repeatedly and regularly—as can happen in a stressful job or a conflict-ridden relationship—the situation turns into one of chronic stress, and real health problems can set in.

Chronic stress may make you more susceptible to conditions ranging from frequent headaches and gastrointestinal issues to high blood pressure, which brings an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. When your "allostatic load," or overall level of stress, accumulates to a certain level, stress can snowball because you're constantly in a state of reactivity.

At this point, even positive events can feel overwhelming if they take energy to enjoy. You're not able to respond from a place of strength and wisdom, but rather from a place of anxiety, or you work on auto-pilot."

Read the full article here.

Resource 2: 10 Practical ways to take breaks (And when NOT to take a break)

by Meg Selig

Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

Published in Psychology Today

  • This article talks about the brain and breaks, the value of taking breaks, when not to take a break, and ten practical ways to take a break

Here are some words from Meg Selig that many of us need to hear:

"When Not to Take a Break
There are times when it makes no sense to take a break. One of those times is when you are in a state of “flow.” Flow is characterized by complete absorption in the task, seemingly effortless concentration, and pleasure in the task itself. Simply enjoying what you are doing may be a sign that you still have plenty of energy for your current activity. In short, if it ain’t broke, don’t “break” it."

- changing environment,

- connecting with nature,

- and something I no longer do often enough- day dreaming!

Read the full article here.

Resource 3: Studies and examples of micro-breaks

By Zaria Gorvett,

Published in BBC Worklife | Power of an Hour column

  • This article explores the practice of micro-breaks. These are brief activities that break up longer strings of tasks. Zaria Gorvett the potential positive effects of taking these tiny breaks can have on our brains and bodies.

Zaria Gorvett writes:

"Despite the evidence that microbreaks are helpful, the only area in which they have entered mainstream use is as a way of reducing the risk of developing injuries in the workplace. “We recommend them to all our clients,” says Katharine Metters, an ergonomist, physiotherapist and health and safety expert at the ergonomics consultancy Posturite.

The latest figures by the UK government agency HSE show the scale of the problem that they’re tackling. Between 2017 and 2018 there were 469,000 workers in the UK suffering from musculoskeletal injuries acquired because of their jobs. According to Zaheer Osman, the founder and director of ergonomics consultancy Adept Ergonomics, most people don’t notice that they’re damaging themselves until they’re in pain – by which point it’s already too late. Like Metters, he strongly advocates the use of microbreaks.

The minuscule breaks are thought to help us to cope with long periods at our desks by taking the strain off certain body structures – such as the neck – that we’re using all day. “The important thing is that they are taken regularly,” says Metters. It should go without saying, but if you’re getting into microbreaks to give your body – rather than your brain – a rest, watching music videos won’t do the trick – it’s best to do something physical like standing up or changing position."

  • One idea that caught my eye in this article is the idea of rebranding the break. One example the writer gives from expert advice, is putting a large bottle of water at your desk so that you keep drinking. The water drinking will lead to staying hydrated, but also standing up to take toilet breaks, which then becomes your micro-break.

Read the full article here.

Taking Action & Taking Breaks

Now that you've got your "why" for taking breaks - turn it into action and practice. Which research finding or practical tip will you put into action and practice this week?

Better yet, start now. Take a micro-break when you finish reading this paragraph: Get up and look out of a nearby window, go for a walk, or make yourself a cup of tea or coffee. Ready, set, go!


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