Each year on April 7th we celebrate World Health Day. This year’s theme as released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is Universal Health Coverage. At Parents At Work we understand that Universal Health begins with our own health and particularly how willing we are to look after ourselves including (and often especially) at work.
We reached out to Worklife Wellbeing Advisor and Coach, Thea O’Connor, who specialises in supporting the wellbeing of midlife working women, to ask her what she felt was key in achieving worklife wellbeing and hence greater overall health.
Of all the things Thea promotes in her practice, being able to stop and take regular breaks when needed, particularly when running to heavy deadlines was a standout.
Here’s what Thea had to say…
Whether aiming to excel at work or simply survive, breaks are essential.
Famous historical high achievers, such as Brahams, Napoleon and Churchill all demonstrated that the secret to work success isn’t just about whether you can go long and hard, but whether you can also let up. They all had a habit of taking an afternoon nap.
In order to nap, they had to be able to stop – even in the face of deadlines and endless requests.
For some, this will feel impossible. So how can you interrupt the speed and punctuate your day with some pauses, especially when you are at work and all your teams mates seem to be drowning in too much work?
Attitude is critical. Remind yourself that taking a few minutes out to restore your energy and centre yourself is not lazy, but a very intelligent thing to do as it enhances the quality of your work. Annual holidays through to micro-breaks can reduce injuries and errors and improve mood and concentration, while alleviating fatigue.
Practice makes perfect. This involves scheduling in voluntary stops and embracing the involuntary ones.
Voluntary stops are the ones we choose.
Take a look below at ‘7 ways to break up your day’ and choose one or two types of breaks that you would most benefit from. Schedule them in and practise stopping in order to take them.
As part of your project management at work, factor in some down time after a big project to create space for reflection, learning and celebration rather than just launching into the next big thing before catching your breath.
Involuntary stops are the delays that occur during a day, that typically frustrate us.
These could include waiting for a lift, your computer running slow, standing in a queue waiting for your coffee, being put on hold on the phone, or being stuck in the traffic. We can respond with impatience and irritation, which gets us absolutely nowhere, because we are fighting the truth that we do not have control over everything.
The other alternative is to accept these “interruptions” as valuable little stoppers in your day, and use breath or gentle, on-the-spot movement, to change state before going again.
I’ve come to recognise the ability to stop as the health and survival skill of modern living. If we can’t stop, we can’t make a conscious choice about what to do next – instead we will be subsumed by the stress and busy-ness around us or run by our automatic habits. If we can’t stop we can’t ever hope to cultivate a quality of stillness on the inside, which can transform our lives from a cacophony to a melody.
As author David Kundtz puts it:
“Think of stopping as the space between the notes in a song; without these rests, the song becomes a screech or a wail.”
7 ways to break up your day
Micro breaks – Can reduce keyboard error rates by up to 59%, according to research conducted by Alan Hedge, Professor of Ergonomics at Cornell University. Brief rest periods (eg 30 seconds every 10 minutes) also reduce the risks of muscle fatigue and injury, such as carpel tunnel syndrome, during intensive computer work. To take a micro break you don’t have to stop all work- as long you allow your most-used muscles to rest. Making a phone call is still work but allows the muscles involved in typing and mouse use, to have a break.
Mini Breaks – If there’s one thing the body is designed to do, it’s to move. So change your posture every 15-30 minutes, before you experience discomfort. Get onto your feet every half hour if you can. Download this infographic to remind you. Or, if you’re on your feet all day, do some stretches. It’s the best way to protect yourself from the joint strain and muscle fatigue that results from holding the same posture for long periods of time.
Eye Breaks – Like any other muscle your eyes need a break to reduce strain and headaches, especially if your work requires close-up focus over long periods, such as computer work.
Close your eyes for one to two minutes, placing the palms of your hands over your eyes for extra darkness. Take another break by looking out into the distance, through a window, and changing your focus between near and far several times.
Nap Break – A nap as brief as ten minutes can improve your mood and productivity, alleviate tiredness, increase alertness and reduce errors made at work.. Lie down in a park, in your car or in a chill out room at work – a delicious cure for the afternoon slump. Or schedule one for a Sunday afternoon and catch up on your sleep debt.
Lunch Breaks – Midday is for re-fuelling, not more multi-masking. So leave your work-station behind and take all of your allocated lunch time- to eat (slowly) and get some fresh air. Studies show that people who don’t eat lunch are more fatigued later that afternoon.
Weekends – ‘End’ is the important bit here. Leave work at work, switch off your work phone and put limits around checking your emails. Psychological detachment from work actually enhances engagement when you return to it.
Holidays – Not taking regular holidays each year increases the risk of dying, especially from a heart attack according to a study of 12,000 middle-aged men published in Psychosomatic Medicine. So if you don’t know when your next holiday is going to be, start planning now. Holidays also boost your spiritual IQ – your ability to discern what life’s all about. Get some distance from your life and you get perspective on what really matters and what doesn’t – difficult to see with your nose to the grindstone.
If you enjoyed this article you can find out more about Thea and her work here.
Alternatively, read another article Thea wrote for Parents At Work about women’s health and wellbeing.