Why it is Important to Work Less and Rest More - Catherine Lin R.D.Nov 05, 2020
Recently, I’ve had many patients tell me that they’ve been too busy to work on their goals and ultimately self care. It’s easy to get caught in the busyness of everyday life that it makes it hard to slow down. The last couple of months have been especially challenging as most of us had to transition from working in the office to working from home. Many people find themselves taking on additional roles as a teacher, caretaker, cook, babysitter, and at the same time making themselves more accessible at work. All of these changes can be overwhelming and create greater stress and anxiety.
In present society, we are obsessed with the need to be doing something all the time. We are told that the harder you work, the more successful you will be. Some people wear their busyness as a badge of honour and take pride in being busy all the time. Many workplaces still support the idea that more hours worked equals to greater productivity. Rest is often seen as the opposite of working which often gets translated to less productivity, inefficiency and laziness. The idea of not working can create a feeling of guilt, a fear of falling behind, a fear of letting people down and perceived as a sign of weakness. The use of technology makes it even harder to detach from work. We even have created the term “workaholics” to describe people who are attached to their jobs. The idea that work and rest are polarizing opposites is what is preventing people from achieving that balance and ultimately living fulfilling lives. Instead, we need to understand the interdependent relationship between work and rest and how they can strengthen and support each other.
First let’s define the meaning of rest. Rest is not simply just an absence of work, but it is a renewal of depleted physical, emotional, and mental reserves. By resting, you are able to replace what you are constantly giving out. It is an opportunity to create a space where you have the freedom to focus on your inner self. This could be a time used to gain perspective, reflect, practice gratitude, focus on the present, and derive inspiration. Rest allows the mind to wander and that is often where creativity and ideas are born. That’s why sometimes you have the best ideas after taking a shower or after taking a long walk. These occurrences can be explained by the increased activity in the default mode network which is a system of connected areas in the brain involved in mental functions like daydreaming, contemplation of the past and future, and social cognition.1 It’s in this state of rest where you can truly process the events that have occurred and learn from these experiences to possibly help you make better decisions. If you think about it, athletes have a good understanding of rest. As part of their vigorous training programs, periods of rest and recovery are essential for sustained high performance.
It’s so easy to get caught in the never-ending to do lists that and the scheduled back to back meetings. We think by doing more, we are maximizing our time and therefore being productive. However, the opposite is true. There is a cost attached to overworking that often results in greater stress, less focus, disengagement from work, worse performance and lower productivity. Studies show that chronically working more than 50 hours a week is associated with a greater risk of obesity, heart disease, burnout and shorter life span.2 It impacts companies as well since this would translate to lost productivity and greater turnover from lower job satisfaction. Working long hours is simply not sustainable and can result in burnout. Burnout is defined as chronic stress that leaves people in a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion and is even recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization.
A study conducted back in July, found that 69% of employees were experiencing burnout symptoms working from home during the pandemic which was an increase from months earlier. There are of course benefits to working from home like greater flexibility in schedule, being able to work from any location, and time saved from commuting. However, working from home tends to blur the line between work and personal time. It makes it harder to unplug from work and establish boundaries. I see this in many of my patients who tell me how they find themselves answering emails long after work hours, skipping meals, forgetting to drink water, and end up sitting in front of their screens for hours on end. As a result, people end up neglecting important areas of their lives such as personal relationships and their health. In addition, the loss of energy and time with working longer hours can limit the ability to explore other activities, develop skills, and gain different perspectives and ideas.
It’s important to recognize that rest has to be deliberate. We cannot expect rest to just happen. If you have not been prioritizing rest, it’s not too late to start now. Here are 5 tips to help you start incorporating rest into your day.
1) Just breathe.
It sounds simple but I guarantee you that it makes a huge difference. I’m not talking about the unconscious breathing you do but instead, controlled and deep breathing. Deep breathing allows more air into your lungs and sends a signal to your brain to relax the body as you exhale. Deep breathing alone can decrease heart rate and blood pressure especially in times of stress. Let’s try it together. Just pause for a moment and take a deep breath in through your nose for four seconds and then slowly out through your nose for four seconds. Deep breathing is a tool that I like to use whenever I’m feeling stressed or anxious to help relax and clear my mind. And what’s better is that you can do this anytime, anywhere. You can practice deep breathing when you’re stuck in traffic, in line at the grocery store, before checking your emails, and after checking your emails. Just remember to breathe.
2) Start your day with a morning routine.
Routines are important to help introduce more structure and create habits. Establishing a morning routine can help you start the day feeling more refreshed and motivated. Mornings are usually the time when concentration and creative energy are at its peak. Your morning routine can consist of taking a shower, meditating, writing in your journal, practicing deep breathing, light stretching, making a cup of coffee or tea, etc… It’s best to avoid scrolling through social media or checking your notifications first thing in the morning. Checking your phone often creates more anxiety and stress. The key is to be consistent with these morning rituals.
3) Schedule your time.
Based on studies looking at productivity, people were found to be most productive working 4-5 hours a day. Having designated periods of rest in between work hours provides opportunity to recharge and tap into that subconscious mind. This can allow for greater creativity to help solve problems and reduce stress. Feeling refreshed allows for better focus so that you can work more efficiently. Establish a schedule and decide when you will stop working. Set alarms and reminders if needed. Even just 5 minutes of rest can make a difference. For some people, working from home has made it even more difficult to stop overworking. I would suggest setting physical boundaries in your home to sperate your workspace and personal space. Even changing to more comfortable clothes may facilitate the transition from work to rest. Another strategy I came across was scheduling dinner earlier in the evening to force yourself to switch off from work.
4) Go for a walk.
There are many benefits to walking or physical activity. It can help to increase circulation and increase blood flow to the brain. Walking provides opportunities for the mind to wander which facilitates creative thinking and can also be used as a way to practice mindfulness which is a non-judgemental awareness of the present moment.3 It can be a short walk around the block, walking on a treadmill or walking around in your home. If possible, you can conduct your next zoom meeting while walking or consider having a standing desk where you can alternate between standing and sitting to increase movement. And if you prefer to dance, why not put on your favourite song and just dance for a few minutes! One of the benefits of working from home is that no one is watching.
5) Get adequate sleep.
Sleep of course is the ultimate rest for your body and mind. Sleeping allows you to recharge and process the day, sometimes come up with creative solutions to problems you had during the day. Not getting enough sleep affects your ability to form memories and can cause a decline in performance the next day.4 In relation to sleep, taking a short nap for 20 minutes may help increase alertness and reduce fatigue.5 Next time instead of having another cup of coffee, try a quick nap for that boost in energy!
These are the 5 tips to help you start incorporating more rest to your day. Hopefully we can all start cultivating a culture that prioritizes rest and recognize rest as an essential contributor to greater productivity, better performance and better health.
1. Beaty, R. E., Benedek, M., Wilkins, R. W., Jauk, E., Fink, A., Silvia, P. J., Hodges, D. A., Koschutnig, K., & Neubauer, A. C. (2014). Creativity and the default network: A functional connectivity analysis of the creative brain at rest. Neuropsychologia, 64, 92–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.09.019
2. Marianna V, Ferrie J.E, Singh-Manoux A, Martin J, Shipley M.J, Vahtera J, Marmot M.G, Kivimäki, M. (2010), Overtime work and incident coronary heart disease: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study, European Heart Journal, vol 31,14: 1737–1744, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehq124
3. Oppezzo, Scwartz. (2014), Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology vol. 40, 4: 1142-1152. doi: https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036577
4. 4. Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, Peter T. Hu, Jessica D. Payne, Debra Titone, Matthew P. Walker. (2007). Human relational memory requires time and sleep. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104,18:7723-7728; doi: 10.1073/pnas.0700094104
5. Milner, C.E. and Cote, K.A. (2009), Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of Sleep Research, 18: 272-281. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00718.x