When Taking Breaks Makes You Feel More Frazzled

Using mindfulness to find better ways to relax.

Photo by Tim Gouw

A while ago, I realized that my breaks at work didn’t leave me feeling rested and refreshed. Instead, I just felt more frazzled. And Netflix and chill at home in the evenings didn’t seem to help either. I hear similar stories from a lot of my friends. So what is going on here?

Part of it has to do with busy lives and stressful news coverage. We’re so stressed that relaxing becomes harder. But there is something else going on too:

Why do we keep taking breaks that don’t refresh us?

The basic problem here is a lack of mindfulness. As Buddhists have argued for millennia, human beings have a tendency to go on autopilot. We’re not paying attention to what we’re doing or how it makes us feel. And so, we keep going onto social media even when the posts stress us out; we dive into the Ben and Jerry despite not being hungry; and we skip the walk that would clear our heads.

Going online isn’t bad and I would never tell anybody to stop eating ice cream! But there is a gap between what we need and what we’re giving ourselves. We need to pay more attention to our minds and bodies so that we can fill that gap: What am I doing to relax? Do I actually feel better afterwards? Or do I just feel worse? What could I do instead?

Think about what happens during a stressful workday when you take a quick break to check out social media and your email. Be honest. Does it make you feel better or worse? Would it be better to go for a walk around the building? If you’re an extrovert, talking to a pleasant colleague for a few minutes might be just the thing to do; if you’re an introvert, closing your eyes for ten minutes might be better. You’ll need to practice self-knowledge, pay attention and be honest about what you discover: Who are you and what do you need?

In the same way, consider an evening of Netflix and chill. Do you feel rested afterwards? Or do you just feel tired and groggy? Do you feel better or worse than if you’d taken a walk, gone to a yoga class, or spent time with a friend instead?

To figure out what works for you, here are a few steps to try:

· Pause and look inward, paying close attention to what you find. How does this make you feel while you are doing it? What about afterwards?

· Recognize and accept that what others find relaxing might not work for you (and vice versa).

· Write it down. Writing is a great tool because it helps keep you honest and focuses your attention.

· Experiment.

There’s plenty of stuff in our lives that we need to do regardless of how it makes us feel. There will be stressful parts of your job and your life that you can’t eliminate. But our time to relax should be about our own real needs and feelings. We just need to notice them first.