Imagine this scenario…

After a long week at work, it’s finally Saturday morning. You wake up to chirping birds and rays of warm sunlight. You crack open a window, and the fresh air invites you outside to enjoy the weather. You decide it’d be the perfect morning for a walk. As you sit on the edge of your bed about to lace up your sneakers, you hear a voice in the back of your head; the voice says, Is this productive? In an instant, all the motivation you had to get moving and let your mind wander as your skin soaks up the Vitamin D is replaced with anxiety and dread.

Scenarios like this happen all the time. And it’s thanks to the misconception that rest and leisure are less important than work and other activities society deems “productive.” Especially as the weather begins to welcome outdoor activities, it’s a great time to remind ourselves that giving our brain and body a rest is productive.

So, let’s focus on the importance of taking breaks.

The Critical Inner Voice

The critical inner voice might be coming from your brain, but that doesn’t mean it comes from you. Maybe you grew up in a household where you were called lazy for taking a quick TV break before starting your homework, or you had a coach who always said something like, While you’re sitting on your butt, your opponents are getting better than you! While perhaps well-intentioned, these authority figures planted seeds of critical messaging that still affects you today. Especially when your body is begging for rest, don’t believe everything you think.

Overworking Is Counterproductive

In a culture without work-life balance, leisure is seen as a bonus — a little treat we can give ourselves if we work hard enough. But we need to shift our mindset when it comes to taking breaks. The more we deprive ourselves of the time to recharge, the harder burnout will come back to bite us.

And with burnout comes other health risks, like these cited by the American Heart Association:

  • Fatigue
  • Coronary heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

If we know that working too much is bad for our mental and physical health, why do we do it anyway? The reality is, the external messaging we receive about work (whether from parents, peers, bosses, or the media) is so powerful that it often transcends science and logic.

Now imagine this scenario…

You’re getting together with an old friend. They fill you in on all the exciting projects they’re working on at their job. You see the exhaustion in their eyes but assume they wear it as a badge of honor, convincing yourself that, since you don’t have nearly as much work-related stuff to report on, you don’t work hard enough. And then all that messaging from your parents or old coaches creeps in to call you lazy.

What if the only reason your friend is talking so much about work is that they’re trying to convince themselves that it is indeed an interesting, important part of their life—so that they don’t feel so badly about being exhausted?

Stick to the facts. And if you’re not sure of the facts, avoid creating thoughts based on fiction.

Recharging Is Productive

Plenty of research has highlighted the link between sunlight and well-being. While exposure to sunlight should be limited and protected using SPF, it has been found to have the following benefits:

  • Improved sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Higher inclination to exercise
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Better bone health

Brain breaks can also spark new ideas. Ever wonder why you come up with some of your best ideas in the shower? When the brain is in a state of wakeful rest, its default mode network (DMN) can activate, which enables daydreaming and creative thinking.

So don’t underestimate the power and goodness that can come from checking out for a bit. When your body is craving a walk outdoors or a lie on the couch, try honoring instead of judging it. You may find that you’re better able to solve a pesky problem or come up with your next big idea. Besides all that, you may just feel better as well.

Sounds productive to me!

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