For many people, taking a break can be a frightening notion. The fear of missing out, stigmas around self-care and the guilt of not being productive may lead us to actively avoid taking a much-needed break. But you don’t have to wait until exhaustion sets in to take a moment for yourself. Here’s why incorporating proper rest into your life is crucial for your mental health and wellness.
It may seem paradoxical, but sometimes doing absolutely nothing can actually help you achieve more.
Everyone Needs Rest
Every mental process, each executive decision, abstract thought or ponderous spark occurring in that big, beautiful pre-frontal cortex of yours requires energy.
Humans have a lot in common with the mobile computing devices we rely on each day. And just like your mobile phone or laptop, which require power in order to provide computational functions, our brains require energy to function in a similar manner. Broadly speaking, we start each day with a finite amount of energy, and those resources are most often spent on cognitive processes. Think of everything that requests our attention as we navigate our daily lives. A ringing phone, emails, socialising, traffic, exercise, browsing the internet – they all demand a slice of our energy. Every mental process, each executive decision, abstract thought or ponderous spark occurring in that big, beautiful pre-frontal cortex of yours requires energy. Eventually, we will start to notice a dip in our reserves, and begin to experience brain fog, restlessness or an inability to focus.
And what happens when we start to feel mentally depleted? We crash. We zone out. Perhaps we get snarky, agitated or depressed. However the symptoms manifest, we have reached a point where our brains have begun a slow and steady march toward tiredness, and at this juncture we have two options; dig in or chill out.
Know When To Take A Break
Ever heard of diminishing returns? It’s an economic concept, referring to the value of something decreasing over a period of time. Within the context of psychology, this is the presentation of a natural limit to how much time and energy we can invest in something whilst still expecting improvement. For example, receiving smaller and smaller increases in performance on practice tests with each passing hour of study beyond a certain point. Eventually you’ll require a study break or risk burn out.
Sure, it’s possible to artificially stave off mental drain through various means, many of which will be familiar. Caffeine, anxiety, doubling down and pep-talks can all help us to ‘push through’ and keep on going. Unfortunately, these measures will only provide us with a temporary reprieve, and might actually do more harm to us in both the short and long term. Try as we might, there is no outrunning our biology.
Doing nothing can actually help you get more done.
There are other reasons why we may tend to avoid taking a break. We might also feel a sense of weakness or failure for even considering a step back or ‘taking our foot of the pedal’. In our modern hustle-culture, the stigma of productivity is all too real. Some may incorrectly perceive the concept of much needed mental rest as a lack of being committed, or the act of switching off misinterpreted as laziness. Yet ironically, taking time to do nothing can actually help you get more done.
When you are well-rested, your energy levels will bounce back, enabling you to focus on what’s important with renewed vim and vigour. A mind refreshed can lead to previously unforeseen opportunities, such as discovering the solution to a problem your tired brain could not visualise, or finding novel ways to improve productivity, freeing up your precious time. Decision-making, attention, memory and mental clarity all improve with rest, as does your ability to deal with stress, which can lower the risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety whilst improving your mood and outlook. Even a small break of just a few minutes is better than nothing at all, with ‘mini-breaks’ being shown to benefit health and productivity, specifically helping people recover from the daily demands of work.
How To Do Nothing
It is difficult to even take a moment to ourselves without soon feeling like we are missing out on something.
It may seem almost silly to recommend ways to ‘do nothing’, after all, can’t we just switch off whenever we want? Unfortunately, rest isn’t as automatic of a process as we’d like it to be, especially since the advent of social media, mobile phones and the constant fight for our attention has rendered its lifespan seemingly shorter with each passing year. Meaning that it is difficult to even take a moment to ourselves without soon feeling like we are missing out on something, bored or craving the next serotonin kick delivered through social media, games and apps. So, how do we really achieve rest? It all cycles back to doing nothing at all.
Get outside and be present: If the weather permits, go and immerse yourself in nature. Reconnect with the natural world, enjoy some fresh air and focus on the wonder of life that is unfolding all around you. Your mind may wander back to whatever pressing demands are on the ticket for the day. Each time you feel your focus being pulled away, look for a bird, tree, insect or other living being, and reflect on the simplicity with it exists in the world. What motivates it, what is it doing right now, and why? Feel yourself relax as you consider how little it cares about humanities self-induced woes.
Enjoy your favourite things: Stuck indoors? No problem. Get comfortable with your favourite book, TV show, album or audio show. Experience moments of joy by relaxing with some entertaining content whilst you switch off and allow yourself to unwind. Give yourself the time to read, watch, play or listen to whatever makes you happy, and remember that it’s okay to take a break from the world.
Clear the schedule & switch off: This one can apply to the previous two examples, or be a basic guideline for making time for yourself. In any case, it can be difficult to find the time to ‘relax’, and for many it may never come to fruition at all. Think of it like writing down goals in order to achieve them – it’s about more than just having intent, but rather putting your words into action. This means setting aside some space in your schedule for ‘you time’, preferably on a recurrent basis. And during that time, make every effort to protect it. One way to achieve this is by leaving all distractions behind, such as mobile phones, or anything else that fights for your attention.
Doing nothing, taking a break – It can be a tough sell, especially for those that feel guilty and are working within tight deadlines or under pressure to deliver. Just remember why you need to invest in your own mental health. If nothing else, it’s a sure-fire way to enjoy a happier, healthier and more productive existence.