The importance of taking a break

TakeingabreakThere was a time not too long ago that on one day each week – Sunday – the Nation stopped.  Indeed, for nearly 2000 years this had been the case in all of Western civilization.  Stores and shops were closed.  You couldn’t go grocery shopping, buy gas, go to the mall, etc.  They were all closed.  Most work even in and around homes came to a stop.

Not so today, and not so since sometime in the 70’s or 80’s.  These days we live in a 24/7 society.  We are constantly inundated with information, and always at the beck and call of our employers through smart phones.  There really is no such thing as a day off, much less a vacation. We are virtually never given the opportunity to truly switch off, or even slow down.  And the effects on our bodies, minds, spirits, and society as a whole are tragic.

Moreover, this state of chronic stress is self-perpetuating.  In other words, stress begets stress.  When we feel stress, we often feel that we “never have enough time” to do the things that are expected of us, or that we want to do.  Getting those things done takes a priority over rest and rejuvenation, and when we do finally collapse, we feel guilty about not getting things done and become more stressed.

This is a vicious cycle that will not end without commitment and a change in priorities.

Many psychologists associate skyrocketing cases of depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders with our “all go, never slow” society.  These lifestyles not only create stress, but they offer little opportunity to release stress as it builds over time.   Stress is cumulative, and pervasive, and without a regular release, it can be incredibly damaging.

The pace of our society and the stress it induces also has profound effects on our bodies.  Illnesses such as chronic fatigue disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, and many others are substantially caused by or made worse by stress.  Our all work no play lifestyles make it difficult, if not impossible, to take a break, exercise, meditate, or do other things that serve as a release valve for the stress of modern life.

This continual accumulation of stress also has a profound effect on our spirits.  Modern society is almost totally detached from the natural and spiritual world, and even when we get away from the cities or go on vacation our smartphones and iPads keep us tethered to the hectic worlds we are trying to escape.  What serves as religion in modern Western society is often a “paint by numbers” experience that is heavy on ritual and very light on real spiritual connection.

So what is the solution? 

There are a number of steps you can take to regain your life, your sanity, and reduce the stress that results from living a fast paced modern life.

The first is to take 1 day off each week.  Set aside a day – any day – to focus only on yourself, your family (and, if you are so inclined, your spiritual development).  Turn off the work phones, don’t check the work emails.  Put the household chores aside. If possible get out of the house and do something fun, and relaxing.  You will be amazed at how much more relaxed and healthy you will feel, and how much better your relationships with friends and family will be, if you do this consistently. And as an added bonus, you will be more focused when you return to work the next week.

Second, take regular relaxation breaks during your work week.  During these breaks you should detach from your work.  Simple and quick meditations are highly effective for this work.  It is amazing how even 5-10 minutes of detachment can rejuvenate, and how much more focused and effective you will become in your work.

Third, remember to take care of yourself, and give yourself opportunities to release stress.  Some great ways of doing this are exercise, playing musical instruments, reading a good novel, going out with friends (not co-workers, unless they really are friends as well), or doing any activity that makes you feel relaxed and that you enjoy.  True, doing this takes time.  But self-care, particularly in stressful jobs, is an absolute must.  Neglecting yourself will result in burnout, and a myriad of health problems.  Being committed and consistent with your self-care will make you more effective and happy.

Finally, take at least 1 vacation every year.  And by vacation, I mean go away to a place where you can be totally free of your typical daily life, and stay away for at least 7 days.  Do not take the company phone, laptop, or iPad.  Make your vacation fun, and truly relaxing.  Now, as a former corporate executive, I realize how difficult it can be to explain to your boss that you will be away, and out of contact, for a week.  My favorite trick was to take vacations where I would not be able to receive a cell signal – like on a dive boat, or a trek in the mountains.  Whatever tricks you need to devise to really detach yourself for your work for a week or more while on vacation, they are worth it!

Switching off, or unplugging, from modern life periodically is not just a good thing to do – it’s an absolute necessity.  The human machine was never intended to run 24/7, or even 12/7, day in and day out.  In earlier times, our lives were very much tied to the natural cycle of the days.  We worked during the day, and rejuvenated during the night.

This cycle is hard wired into our nervous system through circadian rhythms, which are tied to sleeping patterns.  When the circadian rhythm is disrupted for prolonged period of time severe consequences result, affecting the body and your mental abilities.  We require time to relax and rejuvenate.  When we make the time to do so, our quality of life, productivity, and our relationships all get much better.

Photo by S.MASH, who has loads of awesome images on Flickr

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