When was the last time you took a break? That’s OK. Take your time to think about it. We’ll wait.
Most people will have to think a bit longer until they pinpoint that one time they took some time off from work (or from their at-home responsibilities). Especially if they did so to do nothing but focus solely on themselves and their well-being.
And this isn’t that big of a surprise. After all, our collective culture is built in a way that requires us to be “Go! Go! Go!” all the time. Plus, the way the system works is that most people don’t even have the chance to take time for themselves. In fact, according to data, the average amount of PTO days in America falls to a mere ten days per year. If that doesn’t sound too short, consider that European employees get a minimum of 20 PTO days per year (totaling more than 30 days off when you count public holidays).
But let’s take a moment to look at the research surrounding the impact of rest on mental health. You’ll find plenty of proof suggesting that taking a break is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself.
So, if you’re wondering why taking a break is good for your mental health, here’s everything you stand to gain by taking a step back and relaxing. Even if it’s for a couple of hours every day.
Burnout: The Work-Related Pandemic
Experts say the term burnout shouldn’t be applied to the (sometimes intense) feelings of extreme tiredness experienced by people dealing with personal challenges. Nonetheless, the feelings of exhaustion, reduced efficacy, and disengagement at work are widespread.
In fact, research shows that, in 2022, a whopping 38.1% of people experienced burnout. This is a 5% increase from 2021 numbers and an almost 30% growth since 2020.
Further studies researching the prevalence of exhaustion have discovered that burnout affects as many as 59% of Americans. And Asana found that young professionals were particularly susceptible to work-related fatigue, with 84% of Gen Z workers having reported experiencing burnout in 2021.
Looking at this data, it’s evident there’s a problem. But fortunately, the solution is quite simple. All you need to do to protect your mental health is take a break.
The Mental Health Benefits of Rest
Taking some time off can tremendously improve your mental and physical health. In fact, scientific research has confirmed that there are several advantages to taking a break.
First and foremost, stepping back from the day’s challenges reduces stress. In fact, one research study examining the effects taking a vacation had on lawyers discovered that time off reduced depression and buffered against job stress.
Furthermore, a 2018 study found that a short holiday — four nights — had “large, positive, and immediate effects on perceived stress, recovery, strain, and well-being.” Even more impressively, the effects of said vacation were still felt 30-45 days post-vacation. This shows just how big of an impact a short break can have on your mental health.
The second notable benefit of taking a break is that it can help you boost cognitive performance, creativity, and productivity. You’ve probably heard about the benefits of the four-day workweek, which can improve productivity by as much as 40%. But did you know that taking a break has other mental health advantages?
According to research, rest is essential for developing new skills. And studies have found that active rest — like a short nature walk — can enhance creative thinking by an average of 60%, showing just how important it is not to work through lunch.
Finally, if you’re still not convinced that some time off could do you good, don’t forget that the final perk of taking a break is that it can allow you to avoid decision fatigue. And if that doesn’t sound like a great outcome, consider that decision fatigue causes most of our poor life choices. These include choosing a bag of chips for dinner after a long day, making impulse purchases, or procrastination. Fortunately, the fix is easy: taking a few rest breaks throughout the day.
How to Take a Break to Improve Mental Health
So, now that you understand that taking a break can positively influence your mental health, it’s time for you to start prioritizing rest. Generally, you can incorporate more off-time in your life by checking off each of the four categories of breaks.
The foundations of a lifestyle that achieves balance in work and play depend on a commitment to taking daily breaks. Generally, there are a few excellent ways you can incorporate more rest into your day.
For one, you can take a short (under 20 minutes) or a long (90-minute) nap. Or, if that’s not your preferred mode of resting, practicing non-sleep deep rest can be a great alternative. Especially if you still have some work to do which requires deep focus.
And, of course, if you want to guarantee that you’re getting enough rest throughout the day, you should also make it your point to prioritize sleep. Yes, most people do need 7-8 hours per night. To guarantee that you’ve optimized your sleep, try to do so in a comfortable setting. This should include a sufficiently large mattress (like a king or california king), blackout curtains, a way to control the room temperature, and, ideally, some level of noise isolation from the outside world.
The second type of rest you need to incorporate into your routine if you want to invest in your mental health is to take a break every week.
For most people, this will mean turning off work-related notifications on Friday afternoon and reserving the weekend for self-care, family time, socialization with friends, or (ideally) all of these.
However, if you are willing to learn to enjoy more breaks, make it your mission to leave your comfort zone. The easiest way to do this is to:
- Adopt the concept of exercise rest days and implement them in your day-to-day routine.
- Block out a day during the workweek for self-care, rest, and recovery.
- Ensure that your only responsibilities include some light life admin and recovery.
Yes, it may seem strange at first. But after you’ve learned to relax, you’ll find that the time off isn’t an obstacle towards accomplishing all your goals. On the contrary, it’s a valuable resource that allows you to pace yourself and reach your destination without burning out.
Monthly & Annual Breaks
Finally, as you explore how taking a break can benefit your mental health, don’t forget to plan a couple of long vacations every year. Note that by long, we mean more than 2 or 3 days off.
If you can, make the long weekend a monthly or bi-monthly thing. And, of course, don’t give up your annual vacation time — even if you’re only planning on staying home. Remember, a staycation can be just as effective at reducing stress levels as an exotic holiday. So don’t write it off just because you’d rather be in Aruba, sipping on cocktails and enjoying magnificent beach sunsets.
There’s no denying that taking a break is good for your mental health. But, if you’re like most people, you might need some incentive or encouragement to allow yourself some much-needed time off.
So, instead of thinking about breaks as a guilty pleasure that will make it impossible to reach your goals, try to appreciate them for all the benefits they offer. Not just in terms of emotional well-being, but also in allowing you to replenish your energy and gather the strength needed to get you to your intended destination.