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Knowing Why, When, and How to Rest and Relax

Taking a break becomes a dilemma when tight schedules, guilt, or compulsion to perform gets in the way.

I was speaking to a highly successful CEO.   When I told him I was going on a weeklong retreat, off by myself to be silent, he said, “I’m jealous.  I am up to my neck in work, but really need a break.”

A break whether fifteen minutes, a day-off, or vacation is a movement away from the constant flow of things to do and people to see.  A retreat adds a dimension of self-awareness with a rest from media input, meditation, and contemplation.

Any break is a time to step back, rest and relax, turn off the thinking mind, and tune into what happens when you break the day-to-day routine.

Rest and Relaxation

Rest and relaxation promote the health of the body and mind.

Rest happens when work and movement stop; the body and mind are inactive.  Resting is restorative, strength is recovered, there is an opportunity to relax.

Relaxation is freedom from tension and anxiety.  It is about letting go and managing stress.  One can rest the body without relaxing the mind.  One can relax by numbing the mind or by intentionally observing the mind to understand and manage the causes of tension and anxiety.

You do not have to be at rest to relax.  You can relax in action, free from anxiety and unnecessary tension.  Consider being in Flow, having a sense of full engagement with the timelessness and naturally unfolding performance it brings.  Active and relaxed like a dancer or athlete.      Read Finding Flow – Doing without Doing for more on flow.

The Benefits

“Only the person who learns to relax is able to create, and for them, ideas reach the mind like lightning.” – Cicero

Not getting enough rest damages the immune system, promotes premature aging and increases stress and tension.   Working without rest and relaxation leads to burnout.

Getting enough rest and relaxation enhances mood, memory, concentration, learning, decision making, and the ability to manage emotions effectively.

You probably know from personal experience that being tired and tense keeps you from socializing, makes it difficult to sustain attention to work, reading or watching TV.  It lowers your stress threshold, making it easier to get irritated, impatient, angry, or depressed.   Being tired increases pain sensitivity.  Tiredness makes it more difficult to relax.

How much more effective are your actions and decisions when you are rested and relaxed?


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Minivacations – Breaks and Days-off

A break is an opportunity to step back, turn off the mind, rest and relax.  Same as a vacation, only shorter.   Let your break be a simple opportunity to have a cup of something, a walk-around, some exercise; to rest and relax.

How long?

In the U. S. there are legal requirements that vary from state to state. For practical purposes, it is whatever works for you in your situation.  If it is a nap you need, twenty minutes will do to refresh yourself.

Sometimes just taking five minutes to walk around or stretch every thirty minutes to an hour is all you need to refresh and refocus.  Fifteen minutes is a standard break time in many training programs. Every day off is a break.

What are Breaks?

Breaks disrupt the flow of activity.  One stops what they are doing and shifts into eating, exercising, taking care of personal hygiene or just relaxing.  This sounds like something that would get in the way of getting work done.  Paradoxically it does not, it makes for more effectiveness.

Even during a crash effort to get something done to meet a tight, immoveable deadline, people need rest and relaxation to ensure concentration, clarity, and quality performance.

The team is on board for the effort, calendars – work and social – everyone has cleared their calendars, rolled up their sleeves, and is hard at work.  In my experience, there is a great benefit to have someplace for individuals to rest and relax (other than the restroom), beers, tea or coffee, snacks, meals, and check-in to monitor fatigue and stress levels and gauge when it is time for a  break..

As an individual performer, on your own in your crash effort, you need to set yourself up for a comfortable and productive time.  Monitoring your own fatigue and stress levels.  Tearing yourself away from the work to take a break.  Knowing when it is time for you to stop, or to push on.

Take your breaks at natural breakpoints in your day.  Let your self-awareness tell you when it is the right time.  If your breaks are fixed and inflexible, plan your work to fit.

Days Off

Days off, whether for holidays, weekends or just because you need a day, are longer breaks or minivacations.  You can make some of them retreats, if you like, by incorporating meditation, yoga, contemplation, and/or spiritual activities.

Keep in mind that working on chores, your taxes, home repairs, and a host of other activities, unless you enjoy them, are neither restful nor relaxing.  They need to be done, but not at the expense of your R&R.  Maybe you don’t need a full day of rest, but odds are that it would do you good.

How much more productive will you be after you have had a short break, day or two of rest, or a vacation?

Your Personalized R&R Program

There is no one-size-fits-all rest and relaxation (R&R) formula.  You create your own R&R program to suit your situation, avoid burnout, and sustain optimal performance.

Create your program to integrate healthy rest and relaxation into your life.  There are many R&R tools and techniques, including:

  • Taking guilt and work-free vacations, breaks, and days off
  • Scheduling realistically to manage expectations, including scheduled R&R requirements
  • Breaking bad habits that waste time and effort and deplete energy
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Socializing
  • Eating and drinking
  • Relaxing in action.

Beware of the R&R program that becomes just another cause of stress.  Avoid over-exercise, guilt when you take a break from the gym or miss a yoga or meditation class.  Find the right balance between effort and discipline.  They are necessary to implement and sustain any R&R program, but can be overdone.

If you are successful, your R&R will be so integrated into your life and organization that the need for effort and discipline will be less and less.

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George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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