Getting the work-life balance right is essential to improve your overall well-being and quality of life. Taking a break from work can help with this.
90,000 people are reported as taking a career break every year in the UK. If you’re contemplating a break it might feel a little unsettling, or maybe you’re wondering how to go about it and need support on how to focus it.
Keep reading to find out how important work breaks are, and how they can help you, your health, and your career.
Why Is It Important To Take a Break From Work?
We live in a society that squeezes the most from us. In terms of working this can take its toll. While it’s useful, and necessary, to have a career and to forge meaningful goals from it, it’s also important to keep in mind that working isn’t the “be all and end all“.
Sadly, the way the system and life are geared up means that the majority of us feel the need to be productive at all times. Are you the type of person who feels guilty or unsettled on your day off if you’re not doing anything?
This is a really common experience for people. While it’s important to work, it’s also critical that we understand the importance of breaks and how this affects mental and physical health as well as overall work performance.
Humans have evolved in such a way that we’re able to effectively manage short-term stress. What this means is that, when this ability co-exists alongside societal, familial, and financial pressures, you can too easily push yourself too far.
Enduring prolonged stress is linked to illnesses and diseases including gastrointestinal issues, colds and flu as well as heart disease and cancer. It also doesn’t take long for stress to affect mental health and emotional regulation.
The Benefits of Taking a Break
There are many benefits of taking breaks from work. It’s healthy and important to take time to focus on your personal goals, interests, and mental and physical health.
Taking breaks provides you with the time and space to rest, restore, and recover. This reduces the symptoms of chronic stress and is also instrumental in offering the opportunity to reset the brain meaning that when you return to your job you’ll work more effectively.
Why? Because cognitive function has been restored to its optimum power and you’ll have gained fresh insights and perspective from the benefits that distance offers.
Have you ever experienced leaving a task to focus on something else and when you return to it, you suddenly have a lot more clarity, or perhaps, the solution to a problem?
The most productive people understand that breaks bring brain power, new understanding, increased self-awareness, and contentment.
What Happens If You Don’t Take Time Off Work?
If you don’t take time off work it’s obvious that it will only be a matter of time before your stress levels increase. As mentioned previously, long-term stress is linked to illnesses and diseases.
Taking time off is important for your physical and mental health, but it’s also important if you have family, close friends, or other valuable social connections. Spending quality time with people you’re close to is one of the most meaningful ways to spend life.
For those who don’t take time off work or who don’t take care of their personal needs and health, burnout is likely.
Remember, annual leave exists for a reason, as do sick days – if you’re ill, listen to your body and take the day off because you need to recover.
Signs It’s Time To Take a Break From Work
It’s far too easy to keep on working, especially if you have a lot of responsibilities or feel that a lot of people are counting on you. Perhaps you’re the sort of person who pushes on relentlessly to get your work done.
Being aware of the signs that you need a break from work is helpful. Even when you’re subconsciously pushing yourself to plough on you can take the time to consciously ask yourself, “Do I need a break?”
Signs of burnout and that you need to take some time off work include:
- Experiencing reduced enjoyment at work and feeling dread on waking up and thinking about the day ahead. (Some people get the “Sunday blues” in anticipation of the next day back to work.)
- Feeling restless in general and pondering “the big” existential questions (i.e. “What’s the point in it all?”)
- Experiencing resentment at work about tasks and colleagues as well as in your personal life about supporting people you have in the past or whom you care about.
- Impaired attention span, perhaps you’re finding it increasingly difficult to focus and get work done. This can lead to procrastination and daydreaming.
- Experiencing a change in appetite, eating habits, and weight.
- Suffering from an overall lack of energy, exhaustion, and insomnia.
- Social withdrawal and a low motivation or desire to do anything, including participating in previously well-loved hobbies.
- Suffering from more physical illnesses and feeling generally unwell.
What Types of Breaks Can You Take From Work?
Of course, your true break in the proper sense of the word can look different according to where you are, how long it lasts, and what you do with it.
The shortest break time you get is the one you take during the working day; the standard lunch break, and sometimes you get the odd 15 minutes. While they vary greatly across industries, legally in the UK workers are entitled to a 20-minute break for every 6 hours that they work.
About longer breaks, it’s useful to think about the sort that you want as well as the sort that you need, that your health would benefit from.
Some might opt for a mini-break, a short weekend away in a cosy cottage in the middle of the Lake District where instead of WiFi there are endless views.
If money’s a little tight, or you simply love your home, a “staycation” could be on the cards; you need to make sure you turn off all the screens that connect you to work.
Finally, a long break might not only be desirable but necessary, especially if its purpose is to support your mental and physical health.
1. Is it OK to take a break from your job?
Yes, it’s OK to take a break from your job. While it might seem strange too, especially if you’ve been raised in a career-focused home or if you put a lot of pressure on yourself, actually it’s really helpful to take time off work.
There is a range of motivations that drive people to have a work break. Thinking about what might drive your own can help make taking one feel more accessible.
2. What’s a career break?
A career break is taking time off work. People who take a career break likely resign from their job and just spend time relaxing and refocusing. For some, this might come after a period of serious stress (i.e. after a bereavement) or at a time when you realise you’ve been chasing a career that’s not “you”.
A career break is useful in providing you space to think about what you want from the future. It’s also a useful space in which to develop new skills or gain qualifications. It does, of course, have to be financially viable.
3. What’s a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is where you take an agreed amount of time off work with an agreement in place with your employer to return to the job on a particular future date. During the time off, it’s unlikely you’ll be paid or that pension contributions will continue.
This type of break is useful in the instance where you want to keep your job but you’d like some meaningful time off. Quite often people use this to travel a bit of the world or to focus on self-development or their family.
If this sort of break sounds good to you, it’s worth having a chat with your employer and having a read through your contract and company policies to see what the terms around a sabbatical are at your workplace.
4. Does taking a break from work affect your career?
So long as you have developed useful skills already and use them positively, a break shouldn’t affect your career continuing successfully.
There is a way of phrasing things, of course, so to a future employer you might say you took a career break for rest, relaxation, and to re-energise, or that you wanted to travel, or take a particular course of learning.
What Purpose Does Your Break Serve?
Usually, a work break will fall into one or two of the following categories. Seeing the purpose of a break can help you “process” its point more if you’re the sort of person who feels the need to justify time off!
1. Quality you-time and self-care
Taking time to focus on yourself is one of the most important things you can do in life. Taking part in activities that help you grow in self-awareness, in understanding what’s important to you, and also in looking after your mental and emotional health is healthy.
You might use the time solely to rest and rejuvenate. Perhaps you’ll put energy into learning techniques that help you relax and ground (Wim Hoff’s cold exposure is becoming increasingly popular).
Maybe you’ll explore your creative side through art, writing, or playing an instrument. The time might be spent reading useful books that bring new insights, or you could discover the power of play through singing, dancing, or circus skills.
2. Energy-boosting breaks
For many, a break includes activity. It could be an active holiday where you “get into your body” (after so much time “in your head” thinking at the office). You might opt for skiing, watersports, or rock climbing; anything that boosts and depletes energy levels!
Energy can also be restored through a connection to nature whether you’re taking a stroll through Sherwood Forest or a serious hike up Pen Y Fan. This type of activity reduces mental fatigue and sun exposure which gives you vitamin D and improves sleep!
Whether they’re addictive activities set to release adrenaline or are more low-key, energy-boosting breaks are great for your overall mental performance as well as physical health.
3. Boosting brain power
It can be really useful to take a break that focuses on maximising your cognitive performance. This is especially useful for people who work in brain-powered jobs where you do a lot of thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and managing.
Eating healthy, maybe you’ll go for a detox, and then really focus on nutritional intake. Looking after your brain means one aspect will be to boost the amino acids. You can do this by eating avocado, nuts and seeds, berries, fish, poultry, quinoa, and whole grains.
Also, try brain exercises such as word puzzles, number puzzles, board games, or playing an instrument.
Incorporating this type of eating and these brain exercises are important in everyday life. Making adjustments in these areas so they become a lifestyle will also help deter diseases such as dementia.
4. Social connection
Never underestimate the value of spending time with people you care about and who are positive influences on your life. Social breaks might include a family holiday, a trip to see an old friend, a group holiday or a retreat where you meet with others and share an experience.
As humans, social connection is instrumental to childhood development and the development of essential skills and brain functionality. As adults, social connection helps us reset, it’s a space where we can philosophically and spiritually meet with other minds.
5. Organising your personal life
When you’re focused on your work, things at home and in your personal life can get left behind. A break to focus on organising your personal life can help you feel focused, relaxed, and on top of things.
You might take the time to create new passwords on your online accounts. It could be the time to sort through the house going through wardrobes, old cupboards filled with junk, or sorting out the garden.
This type of break often results in a feeling of great satisfaction!
6. Redirecting your career
A lot of people take breaks to redirect their careers. To do this, it’s useful to ask, “What’s going to look good on my CV?”
You might spend the time taking additional courses that develop particular skills, knowledge, and interests. If you’re planning to head into a different industry, then you’ll take a course or spend time learning about relevant topics.
7. To heal the mind and body
If your health is under duress, then a break to look after your mind and body is not only valuable but essential. This can help you reset mentally and physically, as well as help you regroup and identify how to manage various aspects of your health in the long run.
It might be that you need to get on top of your diet and/or exercise. Perhaps you want to sort out alcohol or drug use.
How To Take The Break You Need
It’s important to take regular breaks at work. As mentioned earlier, in the UK, you’re legally permitted a 20-minute break for every 6 hours you work.
Getting your mind off the task at hand and eating, getting in a short walk, or doing anything that distracts you can revitalise for when you come back to the job.
Set times for your breaks and keep to them as closely as possible. Discuss it with your manager if you’re a person who struggles to take a break. If you have annual leave, book it in advance and take time to think about how you’re going to use the time so you can look forward to it.
1. How can I get 2 weeks off work?
Firstly, you can use your annual leave allowance to take a holiday or “staycation”. It’s useful to remember that you can use your sick day allowance. Many people often view these as encompassing “mental health” days.
If you’re seriously struggling with your mental health, it’s advisable to see a doctor who could very possibly sign you off work for a week or two.
2. Can you afford to quit your job and take a break from work?
If you’re financially stable, have some savings, and are seriously unhappy at work, then quitting the job might be helpful as you give yourself space and time to apply for other jobs and develop new skills.
If you don’t have money to stop working, start budgeting and saving where possible, stop using credit cards, and devote a bit of time each week to applying for new jobs so you can swiftly move from one to another (but with, perhaps, a week break in between).
A Final Thought
Whether it’s taking your lunchtime breaks, a fun-filled weekend away, or a long relaxing break, taking time off work is essential. Work breaks offer the space to focus on you, your needs, and your mental and physical health.
It’s important to find contentment and enjoyment in life. A well-timed break improves your quality of life as you take time to do the things you want and need. It is your life after all.