In today’s productivity-focused culture, many of us feel the need to constantly be working. As a result, Americans are spending more and more time in the office. According to recent studies, “working hours in North America and the U.K. have steadily risen in the last 20 years. A DIT research report found that 1 in 6 employees now work more than 60 hours a week.” That’s 20 hours more than the traditional “9 to 5” job would account for, or four extra hours per day for those balancing a 5 day workweek.
Even during times of potential rest, we find ways to work. Studies suggest that over a third of all American workers anticipate eating lunch at their desk on a regular basis, and more than half of us expect to work even when we’re on vacation.
Despite our workaholic culture, research shows that we’re actually more productive and perform better when we take time to recharge. Employers at Ernst & Young found that for every additional 10 hours of vacation time an employee took, their yearly performance review improved by 8%—plus, they were more likely to stay with the company. Even small, daily changes can make a world of difference; night air traffic controllers who were given 40 minutes to nap during their shift exhibited improved vigilance and response times.
How is Stress Bad for Us?
Neuropsychology explains how this works. When we experience stress, our bodies release the hormone cortisol. At times, this is beneficial; for example, when we’re faced with an emergency, cortisol increases the sugars in our bloodstream and enhances our brain’s use of them, allowing us to think and react more quickly. Yet too much cortisol can disrupt the body’s processes, leading to anxiety, trouble sleeping, memory impairment, headaches, and more.
Dr. Marilyn Paul, author of An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life, compares hard work to running sprints. Being super productive for a few hours is like sprinting—during that time, you’re using abnormally high amounts of energy (or cortisol) to meet your goal. Just as no one can sprint nonstop, no one can be constantly under stress; you need time to rest and regenerate before you can run your next mile, so to speak.
So how can we fit a healthy dose of rest into our lives? We touched on this in our blog “How to Feel More Rested (and Less Stressed) on a Busy Schedule,” but here are a few more tips.
How to Work Breaks Into Your Schedule
1. Walk it Off
Researchers at Stanford found that subjects who went for walks performed better on creativity tests. This method has several famous followers—Charles Darwin found going on walks to be so helpful to his creative process that he built a “thinking path” near his house, where he’d go to work out complicated problems.
2. Try the “52:17 Rule”
The productivity app Desktime has collected data suggesting that the top 10% of productive individuals work for 52 consecutive minutes and then take a 17 minute break. Taking breaks like this is shown to improve workplace accuracy.
3. Read a Book
Reading is shown to stimulate the brain and increase our empathy. Just make sure to read something non-work related—preferably fiction.
4. Put On Your Headphones
Listening to music can improve our motor, reasoning, and creativity skills. Plus, it can provide us with a helpful emotional release after a long day of working.
5. Ask a Professional
With our workaholic tendencies so deeply ingrained into our systems, many of us could benefit from time one-on-one with a therapeutic professional, discussing what motivates us to work so consistently and how we’re managing our stress. Brain-based therapies like neurofeedback can help us teach our brains to relax by offering sensory rewards for restful behavior. Likewise, behavior therapies like Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) can reveal the anxieties and other negative beliefs we’ve developed about working and help us combat them.
Want to learn more about how we can change our resting habits to improve our cognitive functioning? Feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to contact one of Viva’s experienced therapists to see which methods they’d recommend.
Lilly McGee is Viva’s Director of Operations and Communication and supervisor of the Resilient Brain Project. A published poet, she enjoys writing about mental health, literature, and identity. Other blogs include Beating Workplace Burnout and What is Trauma-Informed Care?