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Take a Break!

Written By Molly Ramsey

Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Coker shares the importance of taking time away from work—plus tips for doing so effectively 

As a whole, American adults aren’t stellar at taking time off. A 2017 study by Glassdoor found that, on average, workers used only about half their available vacation days over the previous year. And a 2018 survey conducted by staffing company OfficeTeam found that the average American takes just 30 minutes or less for lunch—during which more than half of those polled say they scroll social media and/or catch up on work emails or personal calls.

While forgoing relaxing personal time may feel like a noble choice that benefits your professional development and company’s bottom line, that lack of rest can backfire on both a personal and professional level, says Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Coker. “Taking a break does not make you less dedicated or less effective. It can actually make you more effective and better able to help for longer with less risk of burnout,” she explains. Indeed, rates of workplace burnout are staggering. The World Health Organization now recognizes it as an “occupational phenomenon” and characterizes burnout by three factors: feeling exhausted or depleted of energy; having increased feelings of distance, cynicism or negativity toward your job; and reduced efficacy at work. A 2019 Gallup study of 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent of people experience workplace burnout often or every day and 44 percent feel it occasionally.

Lack of restorative breaks from work can also, of course, hurt your health. “The stress burden caused by workplace burnout can lead to physical symptoms associated with anxiety like headaches, neck pain, gastrointestinal issues and insomnia,” says Dr. Coker. Quality breaks from work—even short ones like during lunch—allow your mind and body to relax and can boost your acuity and productivity. “They provide a new outlook, which has been shown to improve focus and increase creativity,” says Dr. Coker.

Quality is Key

Sitting at your desk or on your couch scrolling through social media—or worse, checking your inbox—doesn’t count as a quality break, notes Dr. Coker. Here, she shares tip for tapping into the restorative potential of time off:

  • Unplug. Studies continue to show that time spent on our smartphones can be physically and emotionally draining—not to mention addictive (the latest research shows that, on average, we look at our phones once every 12 minutes). “You’re also more likely to see an email or text that will take your mind right back to your work,” notes Dr. Coker.
  • Add movement. Many Americans have sedentary jobs that can lead to sluggishness. “Getting up and moving helps relax stiff muscles and joints, boosts your mood and improves overall health, which directly affects how you feel,” says Dr. Coker. “It also helps you disconnect from anything that may have upset or stressed you out, giving you new energy for the rest of the day.”
  • Tap into other healthy habits. Eat nutrient-rich foods, practice mindfulness, socialize with people you enjoy and give yourself quiet time in the form of reading, writing or meditating, she recommends.
  • Don’t over-plan. During longer breaks—like a weekend or even a weeklong family vacation—avoid packing your days with too many fun to-dos. Doing so can help you avoid stress (there will be less worrying about staying on a tight schedule) and saves space for spontaneity. “Shaking things up opens the door to new experiences, perspectives and joyful memories,” she says.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: June 19, 2020 is National Take Back Your Lunch Break Day.

Photograph by Sata Production/Shutterstock 

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