Give it a Rest: The Importance of Taking a Break

When I think about resting, something rather strange occurs. At first, I begin to imagine lounging on the couch, watching golf and (inevitably) falling asleep. But just as I begin to enjoy this image, I am yanked back into reality with the thought that dozing off to a lullaby of polite clapping and hushed announcers is just plain lazy.

This kind of internal scolding is a culturally-driven, knee-jerk reaction many of us have because we have grown up in an environment that values Type A drive and workaholism. “I do, therefore I am.” We have come to believe that our worth is found in our productivity, and our value to our employers is achieved in tireless, devoted activity with no thought of our own needs.

The good news is that the tide is turning, and workers today are less likely to be plagued by guilt if they grab a quick nap mid-afternoon or take a short walk outside to clear their minds, and some companies actually endorse activities that refresh their employees. This is because research has shown that those physical and mental breaks actually improve productivity.

Ferris Jabr, in his article, “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime”, sums it up well:

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”

I realize that it is not likely that your boss is passing out pillows at 2:00 for nap-time, however, so you probably need to find other ways to be sure you’re getting the rest you need. By the way, that afternoon drowsiness can often be perked up by drinking water, eating a snack, taking a quick walk around the building, doing some quick chair exercises or taking a virtual vacation by visualizing yourself in a relaxing place, and if it won’t keep you from falling asleep at bedtime, a caffeinated drink might do the trick, too.

But the sleepiness you feel after lunch isn’t the same as being physically and mentally exhausted. If you have been burning the candle at both ends for a long time, there is no amount of caffeine that will meet your body’s need. If you don’t make it a priority to get some sleep and take a break from the demands of work and worry, you will “break” in some way. A break can take the form of physical illness, irritability, substance abuse, depression and/or anxiety. As Ferris Jabr pointed out, it can even weaken your moral compass, making you vulnerable to temptation and regrettable mistakes.

Sometimes our exhaustion isn’t just work – for some it’s work plus parenting plus taking classes plus health problems plus caring for elderly parents plus never saying “no” when asked to volunteer. To you I say, “Please stop!” Ask for help. Say “no” unapologetically. Remember that caring for yourself is one of the most important things you do for the people you are caring for.

For all of us, let’s stop thinking of rest as a guilty pleasure and start seeing it for what it really is – an important strategy in maintaining our best, most efficient, creative contribution to our employers and our families.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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