Burnout: What does taking a break actually look like?
Burnout has been a buzzword since the pandemic ensued, with routine upheaval and a series of stressors thrown at us one after another, has taken its toll on our mental health. Many of us are feeling burnout, and one of the best ways to recover and prevent it, is to take regular breaks. Simple right? But how easy do you find it to just take a break, or actually switch off from demands, like work, parenting, day-to-day life? Read on to find out our almost-obvious ways to introduce breaks to your day.
Burnout is caused by overexertion and over-exposure to stress, and often occurs when we’ve poured an uneven amount of effort into something to get minimal reward. Like after a long day of parenting, you make dinner only to be screeched at because no one like broccoli, leaving you feeling fried and frazzled. Or after working really hard on a proposal project, to get no praise or even appreciation, which might leave you feeling overlooked and ignored.
And without directly asking for it, there’s not much we can do to make people appreciate our efforts. So we have to take charge of the things we can control by making time for ourselves. This might be 10 minutes alone hiding in the bathroom, or taking regular breaks, even if it’s as short as a quick stretch at your desk between tasks.
Taking breaks helps us to process the day, when we slow down we’ve got more time to go through things in our heads without feeling stressed about the next task. And even better, when we come to the next task after a break, we’re bringing the rest of the day with it. We can clear some space to focus on what’s next fully - which is a great recipe for productivity.
Now, we hear you. You’re busy, there’s work to be done, house jobs to get through, kids to be entertained, fed and bathed, there’s friends to check in on, emails to reply to, and yourself to feed, wash and entertain. We know there’s not much time in the day as it is, so slowing down for many of us seems like mission impossible.
But here’s why you do have time…
When we’ve got a clear mind to focus all our attention on tasks, we find them easier to complete and usually in less time. Although it might feel like a break is wasting time, it’s actually helping us to wind down from one task to be better equipped to complete the next, which often means it’ll take less time. For example, you’ve been to the supermarket - it was busy, they didn’t have the juice the kids like, or the meatballs you’d planned for tea, and you’ve got home to quickly put the shopping away before those frozen items start to melt. Before you go onto the next task, prepping for dinner, getting back to work, doing a workout. Can you pause for a moment to do something else?
5 ideas to slow down and take regularly breaks through your day:
You might be thinking, what on earth can I do that’s not too quick but not too long, not too strenuous but not so relaxing that we don't want to get up again. Well, we’ve got some ideas for you.
Stop and have a beverage
A brew, that last bit of orange juice, a glass of water. Whatever you fancy, and don’t just chug it out the bottle or next to the sink immediately after pouring it (no judgement, but what’s the rush?). Unless you’re absolutely gasping to quench your thirst, make the drink and sit down for a moment, enjoy it - even if it’s still a fairly speedy thing, take some time to just pause before jumping to the next thing.
Step outside for a moment
Whether you're at the office, you work from home, the kids are there, take a break by stepping outside for a moment. Let the fresh air and vitamin D slap you in the chops, take a deep breath, stretch your body, take a moment before hopping back inside to get on with the day.
Stretch your body
A great one if you’re working at a desk (or from the sofa) all day long. Between each job, like ticking off your email replies, before checking your to-do list, stand up and stretch your whole body. Wiggle your toes and fingers, reach up high, bend over, wobble the knees, whatever gets your blood pumping a little. And notice the tension release afterwards, you could picture the previous task melting off your mind before you sit back down to crack on.
Call a friend
Taking a break doesn’t have to mean switching off completely for a moment, or finding peace and quiet or pure silence. You can, but it doesn’t have to be. You could call a friend and see how their day was, text your sister and check in, or even give the dog a big squeeze. It might not be a total break, but it might be the thing you need to not think about work for a second, or the size of your to-do list, or that the kids will be home soon and chaos shall inevitably resume.
Take a mindful moment
Use a grounding exercise, or just focus on the present for a few minutes. Notice what you can hear or see, or smell or taste. Focus on your surroundings and let them be, before nipping to the next job on the list.
Taking a break doesn’t have to be a big song and dance, a holiday, or a day off. We can create space for regular breaks throughout the day without wasting a bunch of time doing nothing, and then having to build up the energy to resume. Doing things that can give you a moment like having a drink or stretching your body are brilliant, simple ways to take a break without feeling like you’re wasting the precious time you have to get your stuff done.
The point isn’t to make things feel immediately easy, or even find yourself never feeling frazzled again. It’s to embrace slowing down, even by 5 minutes, to create space for stress-free moments, and to allow yourself time to process the day as you go rather than just before bed, when you really don’t want your brain to be whirring from the day.
Reality reminder: Scheduling quick breaks into your day can help us stick to taking them, but things don’t always go to plan, and you’ll miss a few. No need to panic, working on your wellbeing is about taking small steps to make small changes, and the more we practice these kinds of habits the more we make time for them without even thinking. They become part of our day rather than that one more thing to remember!