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Give Yourself a Break!

Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More

In this era of multi-tasking, we endure increasing tension at work and home. In our effort to accomplish more in the same amount of time, we often eliminate breaks from our work schedule. But research indicates that short, frequent breaks actually help us get more accomplished by reducing stress and helping us concentrate better.

Break During Dips

Our bodies go through cycles each day where energy and activity peak and then subside. You might notice that you have more energy in the morning hours and after dinner, but get tired in the middle of the afternoon. This pattern is typical for most people. So it makes sense to plan a break during this natural down cycle when your body is tired and needs a recharge. This period usually occurs between 2 and 4 p.m. in the afternoon for most people. Not coincidentally, this is also the time when most accidents occur because people are tired and less attentive to what they are doing. And contrary to popular opinion, research show that employees who take frequent breaks demonstrate increased alertness and productivity because their minds and bodies are rejuvenated.

Some people eliminate breaks because they fear lost productivity. But a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study showed frequent, short breaks throughout the day did not affect a worker’s ability to be productive. Further research shows that frequent breaks help alleviate or prevent musculoskeletal discomfort and eyestrain.

Regular breaks might also improve your relationships. Excessive stress doesn’t stay contained; it bleeds out and affects your entire life, including those relationships that are most important to you. This includes your spouse, children, friends and co-workers. Regular breaks help alleviate some of that stress by giving you an opportunity to blow off some of that steam before you say or do something you might later regret.

Body Cues

How do you know when you need a break? Listen to your body. Do your eyes hurt from looking into the computer screen? Do your legs feel stiff from sitting in the same position for a long period? Are you yawning about every 90 seconds? These are just a few of the signals your body is sending to tell you it’s time for a break. Too often, though, we ignore these signals because we think that a break will cut into our productivity. But you will actually accomplish more in the long run, because a few minutes away from your work will enhance your physical and mental capacity.

Break for Results

Taking breaks that refresh you mentally and physically are easy if you make the time. Choose one or more of the following suggestions to practice during your next break.

  • Stretching. If you are like many who sit behind a desk or computer for long hours, get out of your chair at least once an hour to walk around and stretch your arms and legs. Also, periodically getting your eyes away from the computer screen decreases eye fatigue.
  • Walking. Movement caused by walking helps increase circulation, makes you more alert, and helps to decrease tension in your body. In addition, a change of scenery might provide you with a new perspective or solution to a particular problem.
  • Breathing. Controlled breathing exercises involve a slow, deep intake of air through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. This is an excellent way to relieve tension, increase alertness, and refresh your mind. These breathing exercises can be done either sitting in a chair or lying down. Try doing about seven or eight repetitions two or three times a day for best results.
  • Exercise. When possible, go for that 20 minute walk, or get on the bicycle or stationary bike. Brief periods of exercise that gets your heart rate up increase circulation, decrease drowsiness, heighten your senses, increase your appetite, and helps manage weight.
  • Visualization. Visualization is a technique that helps you gain the benefits of a peaceful environment when you can’t actually go there. For instance, in the midst of a busy workday, you sit in a chair or lie down for a few moments and envision being in a favorite vacation spot or sitting in a bubbling hot tub that is melting the stress away. Imagine as much sensual detail as you can: sights, sounds, smells. It sends neurological messages to the brain telling it to relax.

When practicing these techniques, follow your body’s cues and don’t let your break be dictated by a strict regimen. When breaks become simply another item on your to-do list, you won’t get the benefit you are looking for. Instead, take a break when you need it most.

Keep Reading By Author Gary Gilles, LCPC
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