Feeling sluggish these days? You're not alone.
According to a March 2021 online poll, the physical health of Americans could be in decline due to a lack of ways to deal with increased stress from the pandemic. (The poll surveyed 3,013 U.S. adults conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association.)
Forty-six percent of Gen Z adults felt their mental health had worsened. And across all generations, 61 percent of respondents said they'd experienced undesired weight gain, which could be attributed to the loss of access to stress relievers like gym memberships and physical outings with friends.
Then there's the tension parents are navigating as they balance competing needs between work-from-home-and kid learning from home. Forty-eight percent of parents said their stress levels had increased compared to before the pandemic; 62 percent of those respondents still had children at home with remote learning needs.
If you're feeling similarly stressed out, a break might be in order.
But what about that nagging voice in the back of your head that says you can't possibly find the time to take one?
Quiet those voices.
A break might be exactly what you need to find the time for—and it could be just the thing you need to take better care of yourself and your business.
If You're Everywhere, You're Nowhere
Laura Gassner Otting, consultant and author of the book Limitless, learned her hard lesson about breaks when she was excelling in her career.
"I was building my business, building my family, I was building my community," Otting says. "But I was stressed, anxious and exhausted."
During lunch with a mentor, she complained about everything on her plate. You have everything you say you want, her mentor countered. What's the real problem here?
"I told her that I yelled at my kids too much," she recalls, and ticked off all the ways she was super mom.
Otting was the person who picked up her kids and took them to the park after school while juggling calls from clients and colleagues on her phone. She was proud of her ability to be everywhere at once yet irritated by distractions that came from the people she loved most: her family.
That's when her mentor hit her with the hard truth: "You aren't everywhere at once, Laura. You are nowhere."
"It was hard to hear," she says now. "As a leader, I thought I had to be the driver, engine, navigator, windshield wiper, gasoline and the DJ. But by doing so, I was cutting the legs out from under my team, my kids and my fellow community members."
To rectify her need to be everywhere, Otting took a break from everything that wasn't immediately in front of her. When she was with her family, she didn't work. When she was with a client, she wasn't checking in on her family.
Otting discovered that, by using breaks in this way, she didn't just see her work improve; the work of everyone around her got better, too.
Her two tips to help other leaders use breaks to help them improve their work and lives:
- Realize that you don't have to be the biggest voice in the room. "Leaders are expected to talk… a lot," she says. "In fact, the more we talk, the less we listen. Let other people run meetings, which not only gives them a chance to flex their leadership muscles ... it allows the floor to be open to more voices."
- Stop dictating the day-to-day for your team. "Your people will come to you when they need help, but by getting out of their way, you’ll have more time each day to do the work that only you can do, and they’ll learn to do the work better that they need to do," she says.
Devices Keep Us From Doing the Real Work
Today, Mike Ganino's a new dad and the host of the podcast The Mike Drop Moment.
In his 30s, however, he was restaurant industry vet and no stranger to seven-day work weeks and constant emergencies. In his 14 years in the restaurant industry, Ganino didn't have a single day where he didn't spend hours on his phone, even during holidays, funerals and weddings.
Being busy is held up as a badge of honor, as a signal to others that you're super important and needed. All of this just contributes to unhealthy and unsustainable behaviors that end up ruining people's mental and physical well-being.
—Rahaf Harfoush, author of the New York Times-bestseller Hustle and Float
At his husband's behest, they took a 10-day phone-free cruise around Latin America. It was the catalyst Ganino needed to recognize how important breaks are to his happiness and career.
"If I'm being honest, I checked my email each morning but within a very specific timeframe and then moved on with my day," he says. "It ended up giving me the perspective to realize that I was part of the problem because I wasn't the leader that [my team] needed. They needed the old me, who was collaborative, curious and able to inspire creativity."
Ganino's has the following tips to help you take a break from your devices for better results:
- Realize that your device isn't your real job. "With social media, email, messaging apps, internet and pretty much whatever else we want at our fingertips, it seems impossible to step away from it all. But [paying attention to all of that] isn't your real job as a leader," says Ganino. By dedicating trusted advisors and support staff to be a funnel for the information you truly need to receive, leaders have more time to focus on what truly matters instead of being drowned by distracting noise.
- Take a break from meetings. "Especially when, during COVID, every call has become an on-air experience with video calling," he says. This is undue pressure on you and your teams to be always on and camera-ready. By designating certain days as no-meeting days, you're freeing up everyone's time to reinvest in more pressing matters.
Small Breaks Have a Big Impact
Rahaf Harfoush is a creative soul at heart and earns her living as a digital anthropologist studying our societal obsession with productivity. She comes by her expertise honestly as a victim of burnout herself, an experience that affected her health and kept her from working for months.
The worst part of it all?
"It rendered me unable to do the work that I love and forced me to realize how closely I had tied my professional achievements to my sense of self-worth," she says.
Not only did she put her findings into her bestselling book Hustle and Float, but she also took her theories to a 2019 TED talk about how burnout makes people less creative.
"Working less, ironically, resulted in me being able to do more," Harfoush says. "Being busy is held up as a badge of honor, as a signal to others that you're super important and needed. All of this just contributes to unhealthy and unsustainable behaviors that end up ruining people's mental and physical well-being."
Finding ways to have small breaks throughout her days gave Harfoush time to recharge her creative engine—the true heart of the work she loved.
Her tips to help you create small breaks that can lead to big changes in your work and well-being?
- Take 15. "Fifteen minutes, no devices, no screen, just stare at a wall," she says. "Just literally sit there and do nothing." Taking a short time to slow down gives you space to think, something your all-consuming days are likely preventing.
- Get outside. Wherever you find peace, whether it be walking, gardening or some other outside hobby, Harfoush is a big fan of getting outside. "Don't multitask, no podcasts, no phone calls," Harfoush says. "Just move your body reconnect to nature, and let yourself unwind." Reconnecting to nature will let you come back to your desk refreshed and oftentimes, armed with a solution that cropped up while you were decompressing.
Read more articles on work-life balance.
Photo: Getty Images