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The Importance of Taking Breaks

Have you ever thought that your schedule had to be tightly packed to feel productive? Have you ever thought that you would never have enough time if you took a 5-minute break? No matter if you are at work or at school, you may feel overwhelmed by the heavy workload and constant deadlines. Over time, you will find yourselves in a state of restlessness. Sometimes, we need to take a step back and take a rest.

According to Forbes, nearly 20% of North American workers worry that taking breaks mean they are not hardworking while 13% worry their colleagues will judge them. 38% of employees don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break. 22% of the bosses think those who take lunch break are less hardworking.

These numbers are extremely shocking. Many research studies have shown that people perform better with breaks. In 2011, University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras found that the group which takes breaks when they are memorizing numbers performed the best while the other groups’ performance kept dropping off.

Benefits of taking breaks

Improve productivity

Taking breaks may be counterintuitive regarding productivity. However, working long hours can drain you easily and you will lose focus and concentration over time. Sometimes, a 10-minute nap or a 10-minute walk can re-energize your body and brain.

Improve mental health

Stress is one of the most common signs of overworking which can have detrimental health effects. According to research from The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise can counter depression, stress and anxiety. Having some movements between work such as getting up and walking around can help you refresh your mind.

Reduce eye strain

Being glued to your phone for hours harms your eyes. Especially during COVID, we shift everything online and we have to stare at all our digital devices the whole day. It also happens when you have a dim light environment. According to MedicineNet, this can cause headaches, eye pain, blurring of vision, etc. It has always been recommended to take breaks and look at objects from afar.

Reduce neck and lower back pain

Similar to eye strain, when you keep yourself in the same position for hours, it can create muscle tension and other long-term health issues including lower back pain, obesity, neck and shoulder pain, etc. However, when you incorporate walking or stretching breaks, it improves flexibility, reduces stiffness and improves posture.

Strong sense of belonging at their workplace

According to the Tork survey, employees who take a lunch break daily feel more valued by their employer and 81% of employees have a stronger desire to be an active member. The job satisfaction and the likelihood to work at the same company is also higher. Having breaks allows employees to build a stronger work life balance.

Prevent burnout

When you work tirelessly, you run the risk of burning out. Burnout symptoms include a lack of motivation, mental and physical exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating. By taking regular breaks, you can keep a healthy balance in your life and lead a sustainable work pattern.

Guidelines for taking breaks

Everyone has different preferences in terms of breaks. Some people like socializing while others like to have light movements. However, some breaks may be considered as unhealthy such as spending time on social media, watching youtube or checking emails. In the end, you are still sitting on your desk or at your workplace. Ideally, you should take breaks without having work in your mind.

How about the frequency? Some research also suggests that you should take breaks every 50-90 minutes. The Atlantic claims that you should work for 52 minutes and take a break for 17 minutes to reach the perfect productivity. A 15-20 minute break is the ideal time. It allows you to refresh your mind and returns to work mode once you finish the break. However, everyone is different so do what works for you.

Here are some suggestions.

Office stretches

Although nowadays most people work from home due to the current pandemic situation, you can still incorporate these stretching routines around your desk.

  • Shoulder stretch

  • Upper arm stretch

  • Side neck stretch

  • Lower back stretch

  • Thigh stretch

Take a walk

Walking is one of the most underrated movement and exercise. If you are at home, go for a 5-10 min walk to drink water, go to the bathroom, have a little snack, or just look at a window. If it is possible, go for an outdoor walk around your neighbourhood to breathe some fresh air and clear your mind.

Stay away from digital devices

The whole purpose of a break is to detach from work. Therefore, getting away from your screen or your phone really helps.

Have a chat

Socializing can be very relaxing. If you are at home, you can just have a chat with your household members to catch up. If you are living alone, go and make a call with your friends or family and see what they’re up to. In a workplace environment, work relationship improve physical and mental health as this can boost job satisfaction.

Quiet time

Sometimes, you have days you want to be alone, which is totally normal. Meditation, reading or listening to music are some ways to clear your head and recharge.

Pomodoro technique

This technique has been very popular recently. It is simply a method that breaks your work into four blocks of 25-minute work and separated by five-minute breaks. After the four blocks, you can take a longer break about 15-20 minutes. Rather than feeling that you have endless time to finish the work, you know you only have 25 minutes to finish as much work as you can. Some people find having a short work period allows them to focus.

Schedule break time

You may think that rest time isn’t something that should be scheduled as it ruins the whole idea of relaxing. However, for people who will work all day even until at night, this may be a way for you. Using alarms and reminders are ways to remind you to take breaks as some people may easily get carried away with work and do not notice how time flies. Instead of taking spontaneous breaks, scheduling a break can allow you to have something to look ahead. It also allows you to have a more structured day.

Above are only a few of the methods to have breaks. No matter how strong you are, you still need to rest as your body and brain need that. It can be tough to step away from important tasks but a lot of studies have shown that regular breaks improve performance. Every individual is unique. Try different ways to find out which benefits you the most. Your body and mind will be very grateful for that.

Work hard, play hard, rest hard.

Article Author: Michelle Lam

Article Editors: Edie Whittington, Sherilyn Wen