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How often do you find yourself taking a break?
And we don’t mean a pause, either; they’re different. We’ve all started something, put it on pause for a bit, worried about it the whole time, and eventually came back to it.
But that’s not a clean break now, is it?
No. A real break is one that’s both physical and mental. A moment or time period where you give yourself full—and deserved—permission to finally let go.
Now more than ever, stress and anxiety have taken a serious toll on our population, with rates of depression and feelings of loneliness skyrocketing across the globe. And to add insult to injury, the collective response is to dig ourselves in and grind harder than ever.
See the problem?
For the rest of this article, we want you to take a break from the world and relax—a little time to yourself may just save your life one day.
Did you know that your brain builds up toxins throughout the day just from being active?
It’s why we often feel mentally drained at the end of a tough day. It’s also why we tend to feel refreshed after sleep.
Researchers recently discovered that rest—predominantly through sleep—cleanses these toxins from the brain through a “chemical flush” of sorts. And by taking some time away from physically or mentally taxing activities, you can give your brain enough space to disengage and recharge.
After a long day at work or a taxing year altogether, you have to create time for yourself to mentally exist somewhere new.
For some, this might mean taking a vacation, turning your phone off, and getting lost in a place where no one knows your name. For others, it can be as simple as closing your email and turning on your favorite video game or TV show.
The point is to create a sense of mental departure from your current focus—a clean break.
One common side effect of mental overload or fatigue is a decline in cognitive ability.
And we’ve all been there.
Study for a big exam for four hours straight, then try naming all the state capitals; it’s hard. And that’s because your brain is exhausted. It’s important to remember that your brain isn’t just another bodily organ—it’s akin to a muscle. And just like any other muscle in the body, it can get tired from overuse.
When you create space for your brain to relax (otherwise known as “shutting it off”) you give your brain ample time to recover—and this break time can increase your cognitive ability when it’s time to hop back into the task at hand.
Contrary to popular belief, researchers have routinely found that one of the best study behaviors out there involves studying in bursts—50 minutes on, 10 minutes off—before a big exam, and allotting ample time for sleep (8+ hours). In fact, it’s been proven that the brain can only move short-term memory into long-term storage during sleep.
So, if you want to learn something new and have it stick, you need time to not think about it.
You’d be surprised by how many of our world’s “geniuses” have come up with their groundbreaking theories or ideas after taking a nap (Isaac Newton) or from a dream (James Cameron).
Our best and most creative ideas often come from periods of rest.
Creativity is perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of human intelligence. And arguably, there would be no human progress without the spark of creative energy that allows us to see new possibilities in the familiar.
As we’ve mentioned before, the brain needs power and energy to perform. This means that creativity—perhaps the most taxing process of the brain—requires a great deal of energy. In creative classrooms across the country, this fundamental truth is generally understood:
The brain needs to be free.
Free of excess burdens, free of anxiety, free of distractions to operate in a space of free association. And to get there, you first have to eliminate as many pulls on your brain as possible. You have to take a break from them.
It’s easy to think that there should be a goal for your break. You should be doing something productive with that time, right? That there should be some problem you should be thinking about; some solution.
But that defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
Taking a break means the planning ends the moment you start. There is no greater purpose than this, and to create one is actually self-defeating.
Your break shouldn’t be for any other purpose than to give your brain some much-needed rest and take you away from your current mental processes (thoughts, burdens, and distractions).
And though it’s difficult to fully disconnect from your own life, it’s easier when you recognize that taking a break isn’t meant to last forever; you can always go back to your regular life and routine when you feel ready.
Hopefully with a bit more energy to carry you through.
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