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As the holidays ramp up, some workers across the United States will take much-needed breaks from the daily tasks of the workplace. However, others might be less inclined to do so. Either way, the vast benefits to taking time away from work — whether short or long — is something all Americans need to consider as the holiday season approaches.
While there’s discussion about the importance of taking short breaks from work, the same benefits can almost certainly be applied to longer spans of time off, as well.
Since studies show sitting in one position most of the day is unhealthy, ‘movement breaks’ are important for physical and emotional well being, as reported by Psychology Today. Sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of “heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.”
Taking time away from work in the short term can also help reduce “decision fatigue,” since making lots of back-to-back decisions can get tedious and decrease a person’s ability to think through problems.
Avoiding needed breaks can also lead to less creative breakthroughs, the outlet noted. People who take walks are able to think more creatively than if they remained stationary, according to one study from Stanford, as noted by Psychology Today.
“Four experiments demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after,” the study noted, adding, “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”
There’s also a phenomenon called “waking rest,” which helps people to ruminate on what they have learned.
University of Washington Medicine’s Right as Rain publication noted how taking snippets of time off can be good for keeping up with mental and physical health.
“Many people don’t often have a choice in how much rest is available to them. The way society is set up, we treat rest as a privilege, not a right,” Julia Kocian, a social worker and UW Medicine Graduate Medical Education mental health counselor, said.
Sleep has long been associated with greater health benefits, and getting the required amount of sleep is beneficial for adults and children. However, benefits can also be found from simply taking the much-needed time to rest.
“What we’re learning is some of the same consolidation activities that happen in our brains when we’re asleep also occur when we rest,” Samantha Artherholt, a psychologist and clinical associate professor in the UW School of Medicine Department of Rehabilitation, noted.
“I view rest as intentionally slowing down or stepping away from an activity, while taking a break can be more active, like going on a walk or stretching,” Artherholt said. “The goal of any sort of rest or break is it should feel relaxing. You should feel refreshed and better after the break than you did before.”
People’s brains produce different types of waves depending on what they’re doing. When someone is relaxing, experiencing deep meditation, or asleep, the brain produces delta brainwaves, which are needed for renewal and recovery, according to MyBrainDR, which treats people who are depressed or suffering from insomnia and other issues.
If a person does not feel the ability to concentrate on specific jobs, the site noted, it might be because he or she is not feeling the right type of brainwaves for the job he or she needs to do.
Kocian discussed the importance of getting into different brain patterns.
“The idea is we need to spend time in different brain states. When we engage in a variety of activities that require more and less focus, our brain can spend time in the different states, which helps it function and allows us to be creative, to problem-solve and to store information,” Kocian said.
Americans tend to work exceedingly hard and sometimes don’t even take long breaks.
Forbes reported on a recent study that discovered 26% of participants had never taken two weeks of leave at the same time. Workers also changed their vacations since the pandemic hit, but the fact that so many had never taken a prolonged vacation is telling and concerning.
Avoiding taking breaks can lead to long term health problems and complications can even be fatal.
The outlet also noted that the World Health Organization released a study revealing that in 2016, 745,000 people died from heart disease and stroke because of long days spent working.
The study discovered that putting in at least 55 hours per week was connected with a 35% higher likelihood of stroke, as well as a 17% higher chance of passing away from heart disease when contrasted with a 35 to 40 hour workweek.
The trend is not true for every demographic, and it revealed that men who were middle-aged or above comprised almost 75% of the people who died because of the long working hours.
The pandemic also impacted the way people around the world do their jobs and working from home might have had a worsening effect on the ability to take time away from work. The WHO research did not include the pandemic time period, but with more people working from home and suffering from economic hardship, WHO authorities said these two factors might have upped the risks connected with working long days, per the BBC.
“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said, per the BBC.
Working remotely might also increase the likelihood of working more than employees are necessarily expected to. The Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom discovered that those who sometimes worked at their houses during 2020 were working on average six hours per week more — hours that were not counted as overtime, the BBC reported. Those who never worked from home were working 3.6 hours per week of unpaid overtime, on average.
Since 2011, employees who never work at their houses on average have carried out more paid overtime; but people who work at home worked more unpaid overtime.
“Homeworkers were more likely to work in the evenings compared with those who worked away from home in September 2020,” the report added.
While the benefits of taking time off should be remembered throughout the year, the holidays are a key time to take that needed break in order to return to work with the necessary stamina and creativity to tackle the year ahead.