There is such a focus on health & wellness these days…everywhere you turn there seems to be pressure to be healthy, fit, mentally ‘woke’ and progressive. So much so that trying to keep up a supposedly ‘healthy’ lifestyle can often lead to feelings of failure, shame, guilt or inadequacy when we don’t perceive ourselves as doing it correctly.
When I tell people what I do, they tend to make jokes about how they had better start behaving themselves. “Don’t look, I’m eating a bacon sandwich!” as if that is terrible behaviour and I will start reprimanding them for it (I won’t…I bloody love a bacon sarnie).
We seem to have it in our heads that being ‘healthy’ means running marathons, eating kale and cutting out carbs and if we don’t subscribe to that, or we just don’t have the time for that, then we are somehow failing at health.
The truth is; health is so much more than what we put in our body or how much we move. Don’t get me wrong, those things are important…but they are not everything.
Over the next week or two I will discuss in turn 3 behaviours that, from my experience and research, do lead to health & wellbeing and can help us become happier, healthier and more productive at work.
AVOID WORK BURNOUT
Burnout can creep up on you slowly and surely leaving you feeling helpless, disillusioned and exhausted. It is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. You may feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet demands and expectations. Clearly, this is not healthy and any attempt to avoid this would be a far better use of energy than worrying about your carb intake.
Whether we believe we do or not, most of us live a large part of our lives online. We share our achievements and accomplishments with the world, and get bombarded with the much more impressive achievements of others on an almost hourly basis. Because of this, it is easy to feel the pressure to always be striving for more in order to seem more successful.
A simple way to look important is to stay busy. If you are always busy and working hard, you must be achieving something…or it will at least look that way to others. Skipping breaks and just ploughing on through for hours may seem like the most effective way to do this. However, it can actually end up depleting your energy levels whilst increasing stress and therefore depressing your productivity. Being stressed out is the worst thing that can happen if you want to get the best out of your brain. We start making less healthy decisions because stress decreases the influence of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which controls our impulses.
Certain studies have shown that the most productive people in a workplace work similar hours to their colleagues but take more breaks. One particular study found that the top 10% most productive of all employees in one office environment took an average of 17 minutes break after 52 minutes of work.
This is similar to The Pomodoro Technique which is a time management system that encourages people to work with the time they have rather than against it. You break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks. These intervals are referred to as pomodoros. After about four pomodoros, you take a longer break of about 15 to 20 minutes.
This may seem like a counterintuitive way to be productive, but we don’t have the capacity to focus intensely for hours on end. A person can’t be 100% productive all day. Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked. Otherwise it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.
No, ACTUALLY take a break…
Often, when we think we are having a break we still fail to switch our brains off. I do this a lot myself, for example: I walk my dog around the farm and listen to a podcast in order to have some down time. However, most of the time I end up listening to a research based podcast that relates to my job. Spending my downtime trying to cram more knowledge and information in to my brain is not a break, it’s attending a walking seminar.
I am not saying that this sort of behaviour is bad, in fact, it’s great to be active whilst learning! That’s why I love podcasts so much, because I can do two or more things at once. But, if that is my only downtime between clients, classes, admin and household chores…it’s not exactly a rest for my brain. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to podcasts to relax, but go for something silly and mindless instead of a TED Talk. Listen to music or the latest thriller on audible…or actually read a book.
Don’t read the news on your phone, or scroll through your twitter feed because you’re still processing a lot of information that way. Try to leave your phone behind entirely for at least some of your breaks. Go outside if you can or just open a window. Look up, look around; appreciate the world around you. Breathe, reflect, meditate if that’s your thing; just switch yourself off in whatever way works for you.
Non-work is still work
Whether it’s planning the logistics of your children’s extracurricular activities, calculating the food shop to ensure everyone is fed and nothing will go off before you can use it, or attempting to file a self-assessment tax return, “NON-WORK” takes up a lot of mental space. The combination of a no-break workday followed by hours of domestic work is a lot for one brain to take. Why do you think people like exercising so much? It’s a great escape for your brain. There is little opportunity for your brain to stress about the staff rota or a campaign deadline when your body is doing sprint drills. You simply cannot focus on renewing your car insurance when counting down the seconds before you can stop planking. It gets you out of your head.
Your responsibilities, work and domestic, are not going to go away…but giving yourself time to rest and recuperate will allow you to manage them better. Taking time off enables your creativity and productivity whilst keeping your mind and body healthy and happy.
Here are a few suggestions on how to take an actual break.
Try to do at least at least one or two a day:
- Sit and stare out of a window (it may sound silly but just looking outside can have a very calming effect* and takes your mind off your work)
- Have a chat with a work colleague or friend about non-work subjects
- Go for a walk (preferably outside) without your phone
- Go for a run without your phone
- Listen to 30 minutes of your favourite music/a humorous podcast/an audiobook
- Read a book or magazine
- Go for a swim
- Find a private spot to do 10 – 30 minutes of yoga (I use an app called Down Dog which is fantastic for any level of practice).
- Find a quiet spot to meditate for as long as you can (I stream meditation music on Amazon Music and just lie in my Tipi…I usually fall asleep because I have not yet mastered meditation, but it is still a great break)
- Watch an episode of <current favourite TV show> on <current favourite streaming service>
- Go to an exercise class (there’s no better way to switch off than to get active and be told what to do rather than trying to motivate yourself)
- Take a nap
- Have a bath
- Plan a trip or day out
- Go on a trip or day out
- Do some gardening (if you don’t have a garden, offer to do some at your parents/family/friends/neighbours/a local allotment)
- Volunteer – there are so many ways to help others. Doing something good that is completely removed from your own life is a fantastic escape and helping others does more for the soul than anything else. I am part of a local neighbourhood befriending scheme (Abingdon Good Neighbour). There are groups that collect litter and clean up local community areas. You don’t even need to join a program, you could just visit an elderly relative or help a neighbour with the shopping.
*fractals are geometric shapes that can only be found in nature. Exposure to fractal patterns in nature can reduce people’s levels of stress up to 60%.
What are your favourite ways of taking a proper break?