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The importance of taking breaks

12 December 2014

It is so easy to get into the mindset that break time (I’m talking proper breaks/holidays of at least a week in duration) can be put off, or even worse, skipped.

Often we are too busy, or we don’t get around to organising the time off, or we are concerned that stopping will just create more work either side of the break.

Well …. breaks are as essential to a long, happy and healthy life as exercising and eating vegetables. You can get by for a while without, but it will only be at matter of time before it catches up with you.


As someone who works in the health industry, and particularly as someone who specialises in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome, I regularly witness the fallout of an unbalanced  and unsustainable work/rest balance. Granted CFS can arise from many causes, however burnout from overwork is a common one.

Cancers and heart attacks similarly sit at the extreme end of possible consequences of insufficient break time, but there are many others in between. Aside from the inevitable loss of productivity are potentially mood changes, sleep disturbances, a weakened immune system, digestive upsets, menstrual irregularities, fertility issues, etc, etc.

Our modern society demands a lot of us. Going above and beyond is a base expectation. Hours are long. Commutes are stressful. We are always contactable. Information comes at us all day long from multiple angles. Never before have we been so on.

So what constitutes a good break?

It’s all about balance.

The more intense your up time, the more “intense” your opposing down time should be. As pressure increases so increases the need for time out, and at an equal rate.

If your regular weekly routine is very demanding and stressful, break time should be more extended, more frequent and more deep (that is, intentionally different from what it is you usually do). If your regular life is not particularly taxing or stressful, the need for such intensive breaks reduces.

If your job is very physical and less mental, breaks should be about physical rest. Put your feet.

If your job is mental and not so physical, turn the brain off, put your screens and devices down and enjoy some physical activity. This doesn’t mean spending your holidays at the gym, but breaks focused on some kind of sporting activity are ideal – eg skiing, golfing, fishing, camping, walking, yoga, swimming at the beach.

Same applies to weekends

The same rules of balance apply to weekday evenings and weekends. If the work week is heavy, the evenings and weekends should be proportionately light. “Light” applies to everything else – social activity, family commitments, house work etc, all of which add to the weekly load. My point is, it is not just work, but rather your whole waking schedule that determines the necessity for more extended breaks.

Happy holidays!