Science says taking good breaks is good for health
The pandemic has certainly turned our lives around. Before Covid, few of us would have expected to be having our own online work meetings, while ensuring the children are paying attention to their teachers during home-based learning.
The risk of burn-out has risen as a result.
According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index report, 49% of workers in Singapore reported that they felt exhausted1. This was much higher than the global average of 39%2. This can be partly attributed to longer working hours as the lines blurred between work and personal life.
The risk of burnout is particularly high for those who had to care for their children and aged parents both during and after office hours3. Between juggling their own online meetings and ensuring their children are logged in for home-based learning and paying attention, there is little to no time left for themselves.
Reduce the risk of burnout by taking good breaks
And so, it is important to learn how to reduce the risk of burnout from work. The solution is as simple as taking good breaks. What makes a break a good one?
- They are short and taken at regular intervals. Decades of research has produced mountains of evidence that microbreaks reduces stress4, improves alertness5, keeps workers engaged6, and actually makes work more enjoyable7! After stretching or having a chat with their co-workers, surgeons, telemarketers and assembly workers found themselves less tired, and more accurate at their tasks.
- They reset our brains before we move on to the next task. A huge misconception is that breaks take time away from us to complete our work before the end of the day. Truth is, taking breaks resets our brains, keeping us focused, more creative at problem-solving, and overall more productive. It’s like clearing our computer browser cache8.
“To avoid burnout, Dr. Albert Einstein sat in a tub and watched the bubbles. No one could talk to him. He was thinking and watching the bubbles. To reduce your risk of burnout, take a few minutes every day to have quiet. Even three minutes a day will make a difference.”
Dr. Mary Donohue, Founder of The Digital Wellness Center1
- They improve physical health. Taking breaks allow us to recover from work stress, which reduces the odds of developing sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease! Those who took frequent, short breaks at work also reported fewer health-related symptoms such as headaches, eye strain and lower back pain9.
- They reduce daily recovery time. Mid-day social or coffee breaks help to reset our mood, It lowering the risk of carrying along your negative emotions through the day. The benefit: We avoid feeling drained after work, and won’t need long hours of recovery break at the end of the day just to recharge10.
- They help settle bits of life. Breaks aren’t always about clearing your mind and staring into blank space. Break time can be used to cultivate healthy habits like getting some exercise, or meal-prepping for dinner or even tomorrow’s lunch.
Examples of good breaks that you can take
Use the Pomodoro technique to take microbreaks (Time required: 5 mins)
The Pomodoro technique is a famous time management method that breaks your day into 30-minute blocks.
After engaging in a task for 25 minutes, you rest for 5 minutes. In this period, you can do anything as long as it is something different!
- Disciplined way to put in scheduled breaks in your day
- Helps you to stay focused by resetting your attention
Stretch or do some mindfulness exercise (Time required: 15-30 minutes)
Spending too much time on a problem can drain your mind and make you less productive. It also makes you more stressed and you end up experiencing unwanted anxiety. Practicing mindfulness exercises is one way to direct attention away from the negativity and just be in the moment, focusing on the movements. Another method is stretching exercises to keep flexible and release the tension in our muscles that comes from sitting at the desk for a whole day.
- Breathing methods and guided imagery helps relax the body and mind
- Keeps muscles flexible, strong and healthy, and can reduce the risk of injury
Take a cat nap (Time required: 30-40 minutes)
While it may seem counter intuitive, experts believe that nap breaks can be very powerful11.
That said, make sure you don’t sleep too long or you will wake up groggy and miss out on the benefits of power naps! Keep your nap below 40 minutes and you should be fine.
- Makes you more alert, reduces stress, and improves your cognitive ability
- Improves productivity and keeps you healthy
Breathe some fresh air over a walk, run, or cycle (Time required: 60-120 minutes)
If you have time to spare and no deadlines to meet, why not take the opportunity to go for a longer break?
Taking a long walk, running, or intense cycling are great choices to get yourself some physical activity for the week.
- Regular physical exercise is great for weight-control, muscle strength, and heart and lung health
- It’s also a good chance to spend some fun social time with your loved ones
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