The Importance of Breaks in Achieving Long-Term Success and Happiness:10 min read

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Did you know? a study found that lack of sleep adversely affects mood more than negative thoughts.

Our brains are very powerful, but that doesn’t mean we should force them to work like vending machines.

Undoubtedly, work is a crucial aspect of life, as it has enabled our species to accomplish so much. However, life is not solely about toiling. Sometimes we need a break to enjoy the life we have. 

What’s a Break, And Why Is It Important To Take Breaks? 

A break (i.e from work or study) is a deliberate and organized recess from your efforts. You need to rest your mind so you can return to your work rejuvenated and energized. Failure to take breaks often leads to more harm than gain in the long run. 

“Even the mightiest eagle comes to the tree tops to rest”

– African Proverb

Two Major Consequences of Not Taking Breaks.

To understand the negative impact of lack of breaks, I decided to share a short story about my time in university to illustrate the harm you may suffer if you fail to rest. 

Diminished productivity 

During my third year of school, I had a lot on my plate. I had to attend classes, study for exams, work at a school farm every day, and go to my practicing school. All of this had to be done in a short semester, which was very demanding and tough.

I often wished that I didn’t have to juggle so many things at once. The pressure was overwhelming, and I struggled to keep up. This led to a lot of physical, emotional, and mental strain, and I became ill and stressed regularly. Unfortunately, my grades suffered as a result, and I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped.

I think that stress may have overwhelmed my brain. 

Different studies have shown that when the (prefrontal lobe of the) brain is overwhelmed or damaged by excessive stress, it can impact your ability to make decisions, plan, pay attention, concentrate, and regulate your emotions. This can result in feelings of frustration, irritation, and decreased productivity.

Burnout

Apart from getting bad grades, I went through burnout that impacted my social life. I had less time for self-care and hanging out with friends, and I rarely contacted my family.

As time passed, going to school became dreaded, and relationships with colleagues and friends deteriorated.

I also experienced physical symptoms like headaches, back pain, and insomnia.

Burnout is likely to occur when the brain hasn’t had enough rest. This can go on to disrupt your work-life balance and cause strain on your health,  relationships with family and friends, and also your performance at work.

(On the flip side, If the curriculum planners were reasonable in creating policies, many students like myself could have avoided the negative effects and enjoyed a healthy school experience).

In essence, It’s crucial to prioritize our physical and mental health by taking regular breaks to rest and revive, because it aids in the retention of knowledge and performance in the long term as our bodies and minds are not built for sustained strain.

Recommended Content: Please Do Less: 4 Negative Consequences of Multitasking

Interestingly, in cultures across Africa, the usefulness of breaks has been promoted in every aspect of life for as far back as history remembers. 

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The Cultural Importance of Breaks In African Customs/Cultures. 

In many African cultures, breaks are often seen as opportunities to bond, rest, rejuvenate, and (in many cases) commune with the ancestors or gods. 

Here are a few examples of how it is valued in different African customs:

  • In West Africa, breaks are often considered times for socialization, community building, and honoring tradition. For instance, during the annual New Yam Festival in Nigeria by the Igbo tribe, holidays are taken to offer thanks to the ancestors and share food with family and friends.
  • In South Africa, breaks are seen as an important time for connecting with nature and engaging in physical activity. For example, many South Africans enjoy taking breaks to hike, camp, or participate in other outdoor activities.
  • The East African people practice mindfulness and meditation while taking breaks. For example, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims in Kenya and Tanzania take breaks throughout the day to pray and reflect.
  • Also, in North Africa, breaks are often associated with hospitality and sharing meals. For instance, in Morocco, the traditional afternoon break, or “siesta,” is a time when families and friends gather to enjoy a meal and conversation.

“We should not labor every day, for continual work will impair our power of work. We should allow ourselves a relaxation from business, as we do from food and drink.”

– Seneca

Benefits of Taking a Break In Your Profession or Career. 

The benefit of taking sufficient breaks is also encouraged in every field of work. For example, 

  • Athletes go on breaks to prevent burnout and avoid injuries. 
  • Musicians often take a recess during long practice sessions to rest their hands, arms, and voice. 
  • Doctors take breaks during long shifts to prevent burnout and ensure that they are providing the best care possible to their patients.
  • Many writers occasionally halt during the writing process to prevent writer’s block and maintain creativity. 

And so on. 

Taking a step back from your work, and appreciating the beauty around you, even for leisure, can unconsciously fuel your creativity, drive, and productivity. 

In an interview with The Guardian, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ( a Nigerian author and public speaker) said, “I need a break from writing. I need to live my life and see things and be inspired.”

In other words, taking breaks to power up and find inspiration is important, as it can trigger an “eureka” moment (a sudden moment of mind-blowing discovery, inspiration, or insight).

Furthermore, taking breaks to spend more time with friends or family can lead to a healthy work-life balance, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being and happiness. Our work should improve and connect us to people, not harm us or our relationships. 

“Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, and your spirit. Then get back to work.”

– Ralph Marston

When Is The Right Time To Take a Break?

The right time to take a break is unique to individuals. It depends on various factors, such as the nature of the task you’re working on, your work style, and your personal preferences. Ultimately, the right time to take a break is when you feel like you need one. Pay attention to your body and your mental state, and take breaks as needed. 

Here are a few guidelines that can help you determine the right time for a break:

  • When you feel mentally tired. 
  • When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. 
  • When you’re feeling physically uncomfortable. Perhaps when you had to maintain a particular position for a long time. 
  • When you’ve been working on a task for an extended period. If you’ve been working on a task for an hour or more, taking a short break can help to break up the monotony and improve your ability to focus when you return.

How Long Should A Break Last?

I admit that I lack the discipline that comes with taking breaks. Sometimes I take breaks for as long as I want. But there are moments when you need to push yourself against the wishes of your body (because you don’t want to fall into the trap of procrastination). 

Most productive people often make such tradeoffs. They sacrifice their urge for immediate gratification for the necessary pain for completing a task because a good moment of stress (eustress), keeps you excited and animated. 

In the end, how long you take breaks is up to you. However, some study suggests that taking short, frequent breaks can improve productivity and focus.

For example, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management strategy for talking breaks. 

Here is how it works. 

  • Break your workday into 25-minute intervals (called “Pomodoros”). 
  • Take a 5-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. 
  • 15-20 minute break after completing four Pomodoros. 

This technique aims at turning time into your ally. To teach you to concentrate on tasks by setting time limits. Additionally, it helps overcome procrastination and multitasking, which can dwindle productivity.

Although some people who have developed a high level of tolerance and achieved extended mental flow may view this technique as a trick for the inexperienced, yet, it’s a good place to begin. 

Tips On How To Take Effective Breaks. 

  • Plan your breaks. This helps you stay focused and motivated during your work sessions, knowing that a break is coming up.
  • Taking a break to connect with friends or colleagues can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Physical activity can help refresh your mind and body. A  walk or stretch will do. 
  • Switching to less cumbersome activities (like playing a mobile game) during your break can help you recharge.
  • Disconnect from technology and social media during your breaks. 
  • Avoid multitasking. 
  • Stay hydrated.

Conclusion: “Try Dey Rest” 

Vending machines that have no stop button are at risk of malfunctioning and potentially causing a fire. Similarly, when your brain and mind continuously work without taking breaks, they too can experience negative consequences.

Taking breaks is crucial for maintaining optimal performance and preventing burnout. Just as vending machines require regular maintenance and attention, our minds also need time to recharge and reset. So, it’s essential to relax to ensure a healthy and productive lifestyle. 

“So, abeg, try dey rest”.

A mindful self-help writer and photographer

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