The Importance of Taking a Break

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, one of the mental health charities was challenging us to commit to taking a minimum of 20 minutes away from our desks and emails over lunchtime.

“Grab lunch with colleagues, go for a walk outside, sign up for a lunchtime yoga or gym class. The world is your oyster! The only rule is to step away from your desk for at least 20 minutes and leave your work and emails behind” encourages their website.

20 minutes in a working day for lunch? How did that come to be seen as a luxury? The words “lunch hour” seem to have slipped from our lexicon and the concept seems to be a dirty word. Cramming in a Pret sandwich whilst multi-tasking at our desks seems to have become the norm. Even our southern European neighbours who have long embraced the extended multi-course lunch break, shutting down their businesses completely for up to three hours, are turning their backs on this tradition.

Busyness in modern life is so often treated like a badge of honour. “How are you?”, “Me? Oh you know, busy, busy, busy!”. To confess to not being busy or to taking a break has somehow become a guilty secret. If you aren’t busy then you clearly aren’t important or are lacking purpose and direction. What a strange culture we have created.

Following the announcement of the second Brexit extension in April of this year, MP’s were lambasted for taking an Easter break. They had been complaining that long hours and extra sitting days due to the intense negotiations and resulting deadlock had put many on the brink of exhaustion. The weeks leading up to the Brexit deadline were challenging and tiring for all with many MP’s working around the clock working on trying to resolve one of the most important issues that our country has faced in a generation. Wherever you stand on the Brexit debate, do we really want such important decisions made for our collective future when exhaustion is clouding judgement?

It’s not just office workers and politicians whose breaks are diminishing. More worryingly, a recent study found that breaks for school children had shrunk by up to 65 minutes per week since 1995 impacting their personal and social development as well as raising concerns about their mental and physical wellbeing.

Breaks are vitally important for our well-being. Research shows that taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes our mental resources, boosts our performance, helps us stay focussed and helps us become more creative and more productive. Conversely, working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress, exhaustion and poor decision-making. Maybe we all have a lot to learn from Messrs Darwin and Dickens. You could hardly accuse them of slacking based on their respective contributions to science and literature yet they reportedly worked for only four hours a day, and they seemed to achieve a fair amount in their lives.