For so many people, work weeks are filled with endless conference calls, meetings and tight deadlines. Pressure to meet and exceed expectations often results in working lunches, early mornings and late nights. Eighty-three percent of respondents in a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said that “they spent no time during the day relaxing or thinking. ‘People treat themselves like machines,’ says Matthew Edlund, M.D., the author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough” (Janes). We’ve all been told that taking breaks is important for your physical and mental health, but in a society where hyper-productivity and workaholism seem to have become the norm, how do you take a step back and take a break?
Research shows that working for long stretches of time can be linked to back and neck pain as well as other serious health problems later in life and that taking breaks is a necessary prevention method. Stepping out of the office to walk around the block, or just walking to the water cooler in the office to clear your head can save you from the unhealthy results of working for a long duration. A new study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found “a direct relationship between time spent sitting and your risk of early mortality of any cause”(Scutti). Researchers found that individuals who sat for stretches longer than 30 minutes at a time significantly increased their likelihood of an early death.
Not only can working through the day without breaks cause physical ailments, but it can also lead to stress and increased anxiety as well as increased burnout. Job burnout is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work”. Researchers are observing burnout in an increasingly wide range of professions than ever before as people spend more of their days working without giving themselves the space to take mental breaks throughout the day. Mental health can have just as serious impacts as physical health on your overall wellness, so taking steps to protect your mental health is an important investment in your well-being. It can be as simple as guided mediation or simply allowing your mind to wander for a few minutes.
If you’re worried that taking breaks throughout the day will take away from your ability to get as much work done there is data to support the idea that taking breaks actually helps boost productivity, so view your breaks during the work day as being productive as opposed to wasted time. According to the Huffington Post, “After awhile, our brains numb out a bit to the constant stimulation, and we become unable to continuously treat the task as important. Taking a break allows us to come back to the job at hand with renewed energy and sense of purpose” (Bartolotta). This is important for everyone, but especially people who work in professions which require long hours on mentally or emotionally strenuous work such as healthcare and business management.
Ultimately, whether you are concerned about preserving your physical health, maintaining your mental wellness or increasing your productivity throughout the day, everyone can benefit from taking breaks and should make a concerted effort to do so.