The Science Behind a “Break”: Why You Need More Rest in Your Career Calendar
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most important, how high would you rate taking a break?
If you answered any other number than 10, we’ve got some news for you — you’re incorrect! However, it’s possible you understand how important getting enough rest is, but you simply don’t have the time when life is full of so many commitments. Your own health, job, and family are just a few of the many things in your life that may inhibit you from taking a break and getting the rest you need. Still, it might be time for a change-up.
Not only is getting enough rest essential to your health and quality of life, but knowing when to — and being able to — take a career break or sabbatical is equally important. Traditionally, taking a career break was frowned upon. Many employers would raise an eyebrow at a year-or-so-long gap in your resume in the past, but today, these career breaks are not only becoming normal — they’re encouraged.
If you’ve ever wondered about taking a career break and making more space in your life for rest, this article is for you. In this post, we will outline the importance of giving your body enough rest and how to do it well. Additionally, we will examine the societal rise of taking a career break and how it can improve your quality of life.
Stating the Obvious — Your Body Needs Rest
It’s important to recognize something before we begin, and that is that almost everyone is stressed out. As humans, we have a tendency to see ourselves as totally alone when things get challenging or overwhelming. We think, well, everyone else is going on about their lives just fine. Why am I so stressed out when no one else is?
Spoiler alert: It’s highly likely they’re also very stressed out. All of our lives get overwhelming, and all of us have things burdening our minds no matter what job we have. Sure, some individuals may have a higher threshold for stress and tolerate it better than others, but there is one critical thing we all must do to stay sane and calm — rest.
How Rest Heals the Body
Humans are designed to perform best in a series of short bursts of high intensity. This is why it’s important to take a break throughout the day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. A break is a short rest from your normal routine, which may include a break from work, physical activity, or emotional strain. It improves one’s state of mind, sparks originality, spurs productivity, lessens anxiety and depression, and fortifies bonds between people.
However, every individual is different. You may need more frequent breaks if you haven’t slept well, are angry, or are stressed. Getting enough sleep allows your body to kick off its natural repair process and return to homeostasis. When this happens, your body is best able to mend and revitalize itself.
Improves Social and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional and social intelligence may also be affected by how much time a person spends sleeping. Lack of sleep makes it more difficult to read the facial expressions and emotional states of those around you.
In 2022, researchers examined the link between adequate snooze time and higher EQ, or emotional intelligence. There were 477 people who filled out the questionnaires about their sleeping habits and EQ. People who consistently had good sleep reported higher levels of emotional intelligence. These people rated their ability to socialize, maintain friendships, maintain a positive outlook, and rein in their emotions and impulses as among their greatest strengths.
The scientific inquiry into the correlation between getting enough Zs and mental health has been going on for decades. Recent research conducted in 2016 showed an increased risk of depression has been linked to insomnia. The study’s findings suggest that sleep deprivation may increase the likelihood of developing depressive symptoms by altering cognitive processes.
Disrupted sleep has been linked to a variety of negative health outcomes, including impaired emotional regulation and stability and alterations in neural processes that have been hypothesized to contribute to depressive symptoms.
Life is full of stressful situations. This constant stress may serve as a stimulant for some, but for others, it will feel more like a heavy weight. Most definitions of stress refer to some sort of adversity, whether real or imagined, some sort of challenge or stimulus, or some sort of a physiologic response. Having your immune system constantly attacked by stress is a surefire way to end up sick.
To better respond to the perceived threat at hand, your body goes through a process of physiological arousal known as “fight or flight” when you’re under stress. Heart rate and blood pressure may rise, digestion may slow, and hormone levels (like cortisol) may rise, among other reactions.
In the distant past, when the human race was just getting its start, the body’s primary method of self-preservation was the fight-or-flight response. Because of this, our ancestors could quickly take shelter from dangerous situations. Obviously, this was essential to the survival of our species, but in the modern world, this reaction can be seen many times and in many contexts that aren’t at all indicative of immediate danger. This can profoundly impact your mood or your entire day, as your brain may send your body into fight-or-flight mode when you’re merely on your way to work and in no danger at all.
Boosts Creativity and Productivity
Taking a break allows you to refuel your batteries. The peace and quiet encourage introspection, which in turn helps you overcome mental blocks and produce original work. Data on the brain’s functional connectivity can be used to evaluate the degree to which different regions of the brain are consistently activated when they would otherwise be at rest. Because of this, you find more and more ways to solve open-ended issues, such as coming up with new ways to utilize household objects.
Do your feet feel tired after walking around on them all day? Your brain’s performance will decline just like any other muscle in your body once it’s tired. Having high-stakes activities or meetings on a Monday is common practice because people know they will be at their most productive after a day or two of rest. You’ll be able to return to work with renewed vigor after some time away.
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Healing Your Body and Taking a Career Break
Hopefully it is now clear that your body needs adequate rest for a number of reasons. Aside from the many health benefits of giving your body enough rest, it’s also critical to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. No matter how much rest you’re getting, you’ll still feel burnt out by the weekend if you’re too engulfed in your job. This is evident to everyone in the workforce, which is why mid-career breaks are becoming much more commonplace today.
If this seems daunting at first, don’t let that deter you. Maybe you’re so used to working all the time that you’re left wondering what you’ll even do during a break. That’s okay — and that’s why we’re here for you! There are so many things you could spend your time doing while taking a career break, but it can be tough to find a starting point. The following are merely suggestions on how to spend your time while on a career break.
Always wanted to go exploring when you were younger but never had the time? Now is the perfect time to travel! It’s common for young adults to take a gap year either during or before college to go exploring and travel, but if you never took this gap year, you may feel like you missed out on an important part of growing up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t travel later in life. If you’re ready for a sabbatical, it’s time to pack your bags. The best part is you get to choose anywhere you want to go.
Explore Your Passion(s)
Always loved photography but never had the time to devote to perfecting your craft? Dust off that camera and bring it with you while you travel to reignite the spark you had for your passions. Maybe you excelled at a foreign language in school but took a different career path and never reached your full potential as a bilingual traveler. Sign up for some online classes and master that language. All of your coworkers will be impressed when you return to your job speaking a whole new language!
Try Something New
Instead of mastering a passion you already knew you loved, you could try an entirely new endeavor. Learning a new skill will not only be rewarding for you but will also potentially advance your career, depending on what new skill you learn. Who knows, you may have a promotion waiting for you when you return to work.
No matter what career you have or what path you’re on, experiencing something new will certainly broaden your horizons for the future. You never know what skills you’ll need later in life!
Somewhat less practical than mastering a foreign language, taking a career break can help you obtain some much-needed perspective on what you want out of life. Things move quickly, and you fall into a routine once you have a steady career, so it makes sense that you may get swept up in the current as time moves on.
Taking a break allows you to take a step back and reassess your values and desires in your life. Are you satisfied with your career? Is there something you would rather be doing? Whether you experience a huge revelation about where you want your life to lead or not, a career break will at least give you the space to think about it and decide as you move forward.
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Thankfully, mental health is a topic that is no longer as taboo as it once was. Over the past decade, discussions about mental health and the toll work takes on it have become far more common than they once were. However, this doesn’t mean everyone’s depression and anxiety have simply vanished. A career break may allow you to prioritize your own mental health and assess what, if anything, needs to change to make you more comfortable.
Reaffirm What You Want
Though it absolutely can be, a career break doesn’t need to be a total overhaul of your current life. You don’t need to start a whole new career when you take a break, and you don’t have to learn a new language or travel to a new country. A break can simply allow you to reaffirm what you already knew about yourself and cast away doubts. A break may be all that you need to rebalance into your field and remind yourself why you chose it.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
When all is said and done, taking a career break is a big decision to make. We understand that choosing to take a career break, though important and healthy for you, can be scary as it leaves you with uncertainty about returning to the workforce. Even with flexible work being much more commonplace, employers may still look at a year-long gap in your resume and ask you why it’s there.
When returning to the workforce, make sure to place emphasis on the new experiences you had and new skills you learned, especially the ones that may be directly applicable to your job. Instead of allowing an employer to view your gap as a negative thing on your resume, explain how it actually helps you stand out amongst the crowd because of the new skills you learned. Additionally, it can be seen as a positive that you took ample time to focus on yourself and maintain control over your mental health.
Always remember that you are in control of the trajectory of your life. You understand yourself, your dreams, and your limits better than anyone else can. Don’t be afraid to take breaks when you need to, and don’t let your job control your life. When it comes down to it, we only have the time that we’re given, so we should enjoy as much of it as we can!