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Invest In Rest

Having come close to burnout several times in my career, I have become more cognisant of the benefit of regular breaks and periods of recovery. Indeed, “Recover” constitutes one of my vital pillars of wellbeing. For me recovery involves more than good sleep. It is about scheduling downtime and creating opportunities for rest and reflection.

Rest is about finding the time to pause and replenish your energy cup physically, mentally and emotionally. So much of the day is caught up in the business of life, trying to fit more in and being more productive. When do you ever schedule down time, allowing yourself just to be?

In the sporting world it is common for athletes to segment their training so that they can peak for a specific event. A training plan will have phases for recovery and taking time out. Having an off season is critical, as even an elite athlete is unable to perform at 100% all of the time!

So too, it’s also unreasonable for us to expect continual performance without schedule breaks for rest and rejuvenation. Research is showing that professionals who factor in micro, mini and longer breaks ahead of time not only feel better but also perform and stay at their peak, and are more successful.

When you are relaxing your brains Default Mode Network is clearing out accumulated “cerebral congestion”, as well as diffusing issues at a subconscious level and assimilating and integrating information. This occurs in multiple brain regions and in more complex ways than when it’s solely focussed on work. The bottom line is that you need to build in downtime to perform (and to be clear, scrolling on social media isn’t going to cut it).

The result of regular and planned time outs for your brain include:

  • Replenishing your energy

  • Improving your decision-making

  • Improving emotional regulation and self-control

  • Heightening attention

  • Increasing creativity.

The key is to create some boundaries; to plan and schedule some micro, mini and macro breaks through your day, week and year. Here are some ideas…

During your working day:

  • Break often for higher productivity. Every 45 minutes take a short break to optimise your concentration levels and ability to focus. This could include some belly breathing and a short mindfulness exercise (A.C.E).

  • Take a regular lunch break and move away from your desk. Studies show eating at your desk is detrimental to both physical and mental health. Also, when you eat at your desk, you feel hungrier and consume more calories than when you intersperse your day with brief breaks.

  • If possible, get up and move outside. Even a 15 minute walk around the block gives you a Vitamin D boost and slashes your risk of depression and anxiety according to the British Journal of Psychiatry. Doing a few mobility moves may also break the postures that lead to pain and dysfunction with prolonged sitting.

  • Take a 15 minute tea break and allow your mind to wander. Find a place removed from distraction i.e. people, technology or your “to do” list.

  • Implement “Transition Time”. This is especially important if you are working a hybrid work model from home. Create rituals at the end of each working day to transition from work to home. Create a list of activities that help your body and brain disconnect from work and transition to your personal life. I have clients use creative cues, such as a piece of music or comfortable clothing that symbolise and delineate home time.

During your working week:

  • Especially when working from home, schedule some regular 30 minute breaks to engage in an activity non work related. It could be reading a novel, listening to some music, trying some knitting or getting into the garden. An activity that is creative and centres your mind is best.

  • Regularly schedule laughter and fun. Build joy and play into your schedule, especially in weeks of constant back-to-back video conferences and meetings. Watch a 30minute comedy, call a friend, go to the park smell the roses and maybe jump on the swing!

  • Take an afternoon off or long weekend every month. Create the time to engage in a flow activity. I love to do an afternoon bushwalk close to the city or get out into my garden and potter. My wife Karen loves to bake. Not only is it relaxing, it’s an opportunity to express her love, as she shares her creations with family and friends.

During the working year:

  • Plan regular breaks and holidays through the year where you can be with family and friends. Book your annual leave and make time to be away from work, preferably not checking email or your phone.

  • Make time to be in nature. Research is showing the importance of incorporating nature in your down time. The benefits include better immune function and resilience to stress. On a personal note, time in the mountains is like a reboot for my soul. It’s an opportunity for me to be present and grounded, while also facilitating space for reflection.

  • Scheduling time to pause and check in on your wellbeing. I like to do this quarterly, revisiting my wheel of wellbeing and fortifying pillars that may need nurturing and warrant more of my attention

Active Recovery:

From my perspective “Active Recovery” is an activity that brings balance back to your system. It helps recharge you physically, mentally and emotionally. When over stressed, your sympathetic nervous system can be on overdrive. Active recovery allows you to put the metaphorical brake on, helping your autonomic nervous system switch gears to a parasympathetic, rest and digest dominance. This is critical in a healthy stress response and building resilience.

Mindful movement based activities can be great for this. Some examples are the Feldenkrais Method, Tai chi, Qigong and some forms of Yoga. Although movement based, these activities are less intense than regular exercise and focus on body/ mind integration.

Engaging in your own forest bathing (mindful movement through a natural setting), is another great option. As previously discussed, I like to get my hands dirty in the garden. Such an activity does not need to be vigorous. Any gentle activity that helps you find a Flow state, will move you more in a direction of feeling relaxed and recharged.

A few questions to ponder…

How can you incorporate more rest and recovery into your schedule (daily, weekly, monthly)?

What practices make you feel recharged and rejuvenated?

What are you willing to experiment with in the next week?


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