Wired For Breaks?
Most of us have probably heard of the Circadian Rhythm, a 24 hour cycle in the body which governs when we are asleep and when we are awake.
Other rhythms in the body are known as ultradian rhythms. This simply means that they occur more than once a day-such as the release of hormones into the body.
One of these cycles is known as the Basic Rest Activity Cycle. In his book “The Twenty Minute Break”, Dr. Ernest Rossi, a well-respected psychotherapist, describes this cycle as one where when we get up in the morning, we have a period of 90-120 minutes of time when we are alert and focused. This is a good time for working on something that requires these abilities. Then we begin to feel fuzzy and de-focused. This period lasts for approximately 20 minutes and is a time when we should leave our work and engage in something that evokes the relaxation response. After this time, we will feel focused again and can come back to our
work with new enthusiasm and fresh perspective.
It appears that this 20 minute period is nature’s way of allowing us to assimilate the activity of the previous 90 or so minutes and build up internal supplies of energy in preparation for the next 90minutes of work or play.
This means that in a normal working day, we have 5 or 6 periods when we are at our best in decision-making, problem-solving and concentration. It appears that our brains are geared up quite naturally to make this possible if we observe the regular relaxation requirement.
Sadly, most people are compelled in their workplaces to override this natural rhythm. Dr. Rossi believes that this is at the root of most stress related conditions where people have consistently overridden their need for regular breaks of this nature. The U.S. Army Department of Behavioural Biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
in Washington found that human error and accidents were greatly reduced when personnel were allowed the regular breaks we’ve been talking about.
When I first started work, we would have a 15 minute break around mid-morning, a 1 hour lunch break and a further 15 minute break mid-afternoon. These days, very few people in the workplace have the ‘luxury’ of these breaks. However, you will see this probably unconscious attention to this rhythm in colleagues who smoke. I find very often when people come to see me to stop smoking that one of their patterns is to leave their desks around every 2 hours to go outside and smoke. This is unfortunately considered a legitimate way to take a break and whilst not the best thing for health, does take a person to a different state of awareness.
Rossi went further however and maintained that during the 20 minute break, a person should do an activity that invokes the relaxation response, which I referred to in my previous article. In this way, not only does the break allow stress hormones to abate somewhat but improves performance and creativity. We cannot be truly creative when we are tired or indeed stressed. Rossi cites Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison as creative people who would find renewed inspiration following a break of this nature. In fact, da Vinci exhorted his students to take breaks so they could later come back to their work and see it with fresh eyes.
Does any of this seem familiar to you? Are you able to take regular, short breaks during the day where you can go away and engage in an activity that allows you to relax and give your mind a break? If not, perhaps you can find a way to try it out and see what happens.
I have a free download called “Relaxation Magic” which includes a link to a free relaxation recording. Something to use in that 20 minute break.
To read more about Dr. Ernest Rossi on the Basic Rest Activity Cycle: