Take a REAL Break: A Secret to Greater Engagement at Work

If we want to get stronger, we lift heavier weights. If we want to improve our endurance, we run longer distances. But to actually improve, we must rest and recover. Our bodies need time to grow, repair, and make physiological adaptations. This work-rest paradigm is well accepted and highly studied among the world’s best athletes and coaches.

Not surprisingly, our mental strength is best improved through the same work-rest paradigm. One way to rest is through psychological detachment — removing yourself mentally and physically from work mode. The practice of psychological detachment puts space between work and our current experience of the world. When you’re at home, instead of replaying negative work events over and over in your head, think about something non-work related. Think about what you’re having for dinner, your favorite TV show or sports team, an upcoming vacation and where you’re going to sink your toes in the sand — anything that prevents you from putting your work day on replay.

Researchers have found psychological detachment to be imperative for optimal work and personal functioning. Consider these examples. People who engage in psychological detachment are less likely to experience burnout and more likely to have better mental well-being. On evenings when people psychologically detach, they tend to have more positive feelings before bed and feel more vigorous the next day at their jobs. Together, psychologically detaching from work can both prevent strain from work and lessen its effects on our health.

Perhaps this is all plain common sense. Of course, you say, we can all use more R&R. But, how often do you REALLY take a break?

Our common sense has been clouded by our omnipresent work communication, our 24-hour society, the increased permeability between our work and home boundaries, and decreased leisure time. Lunch breaks, evenings after work, and weekends are all opportunities to practice psychological detachment. Yet, how often do we talk about work during lunch, send work emails while cooking dinner, and help a client trouble shoot a problem before bed? Workplace cultures and our own personal ambitions can get in the way of truly recovering from work.

Often, when we could most benefit from a mental rest from work, we are least able to secure such a break. On some evenings, psychological detachment may be completely unachievable. Complex work problems or difficult clients may require us to work through dinner, family time, and push back bed-times. In these cases, moderately detaching can still be helpful. Instead of “boiling over” on a tough problem, “simmering,” or putting the problem on the back burner can actually help us craft a better solution. Our brains are actually working through the problem even without our awareness.

The next time you’re boiling over, take three deep breaths. That alone can be enough to re-center. For extra credit, add one (or more) following:

· Think about ONE positive thing that happened that day.

· Verbally express gratitude. Say, “Thank you for this day.”

· Write down, “I am awesome because…” and finish the sentence.

The above exercises take no longer than 5 minutes.

We can all find 5 minutes a day to take the REAL breaks we all deserve.