Take Many Breaks

Practice of the Week
Take Many Breaks

As we evolved in hunter-gatherer bands over millions of years, life moved at the pace of a walk, in rhythm with the seasons and with the rising and setting of the sun each day. In many of the hunter-gatherer cultures still existing today, it takes only a few hours a day to find food and shelter. Its a good guess that our ancient ancestors lived similarly, and spent the rest of their time relaxing hanging out with friends, and looking at the stars.

Sure, life was tough in other ways, like dodging saber-tooth tigers, yet the point remains that the human body and mind evolved to be in a state of rest or leisure -- in other words, on a break -- much of the time.

But now, in the twenty-first century, people routinely work ten, twelve, or more hours a day -- when you count commuting, working from home, and business travel -- to put bread on the table and a roof over their heads. Much the same is true if a person is a stay-at-home parent, since "the village it takes to raise a child" usually looks more like a ghost town these days. Many of us are on the job and on the go from soon after we wake up in the morning and check emails or feed children (or both!) to the last time we pull phone messages at night.

It makes you wonder who is "advanced" and who is "primitive"!

The modern, pedal-to-the-metal lifestyle produces chronic stress and tension, and related physical and mental health issues. It also crowds out creative pursuits, friendships, recreation, spiritual life, and time for children and mates. Therapists these days often see families where one or both parents are dealing with work sixty-plus hours a week (both because there are so many such families, and because the stress of it drives them to therapy). The job is an elephant in the living room, pushing everything else to the margins.

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting comfortably somewhere in your old age and looking back on your life and reflecting. Do you think you are going to wish you had spent more time on the job or doing housework?

Or wish you had spent more time relaxing, hanging out with friends, and looking at the stars?


So promise yourself that you'll take more breaks. Most of them will be brief, even a minute or less. But their accumulating effects will be really good for you.

Here are some methods for getting more breaks; pick one(s) you like best:
  • Give yourself permission. Tell yourself that you have worked hard and deserve a little rest; that it's important for your health; that your productivity will actually increase with more breaks; that even cavemen/women got more breaks than you!
  • Renounce everything else. When it's time for a break, drop everything else for that time. Truly "clock out."
  • Take lots of microbreaks. Many times a day, step out of the stream of doingness for at least a few seconds: close your eyes for a moment; take a couple of deep breaths; shift your visual focus to the farthest point you can see; repeat a saying or prayer; stand up and move about.
  • Shift gears. Maybe you have to keep grinding through your To Do list, but at least take a break from task A by doing a different kind of task B.
  • Get out. Look out the window; go outside and stare up at the sky; find a reason to walk out of a meeting.
  • Unplug. If only for a few minutes, stop answering your phone(s); shut down e-mails; turn off the TV or radio; take off the earphones.
  • Make your body happy. Wash your face; eat a cookie; smell something good; stretch; lie down; rub your eyes or ears.
  • Go on a mental holiday. Remember or imagine a setting (mountain lake? tropical beach? grandma's kitchen?) that makes you feel relaxed and happy. When you can, go there and enjoy yourself. "They" may have your body, but they don't get your mind.
  • Keep your stress needle out of the red zone. If you find yourself getting increasingly frustrated or tense in some situation, disengage and take a break before your head explodes. Staying out of "red zone" stress is a serious priority for your long-term health and well-being.
To get at the underlying causes of your busy life and lack of breaks, consider all the things you think you have to do. Can you drop or delegate some of these? And can you take on fewer commitments and tasks in the future?

Personally, I've been slowly learning how to say no. No to low priority activities, no to great things I just don't have time for, no to my appetite for filling up my calendar.

Saying no will help you say yes to your own well-being, to friends, to activities that really feed you, to an uncluttered mind. To the stars twinkling high above your head.

For Journaling

Reflect on each of the bullet points above: Would it work for you? Why or why not? Will you implement it? Which one is your favorite?

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