Wellness Wednesday: Gimme a break

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More and more articles have been popping up recently touting the necessity and benefits of mental breaks, napping, daydreaming, mental wandering and the like.  I approached these articles skeptically.  Few things have amazed me as much as our efforts to justify the healthiness of our worst habits.  Maybe drinking wine and beer really is healthy.  Maybe coffee is healthy.  Maybe being slightly overweight really is healthy.  Or, maybe, people will later find that, really, we just wanted these things to be healthy so we kept looking and looking for some sort of health benefit until we designed the right study and found one.

But, all of these break articles seem to make some sense.

Your brain is a series of circuits and neurons and information flows between these circuits.  But, your brain has limited capacity and limited attention.  And there is a lot of competition for that capacity, and particularly the attention.  Everything that is on your to-do list that you haven't yet accomplished is taking up some space, the space where you're conscious of it, stressed about it, know that you need to take care of it.  It's so hard to not respond to an e-mail sitting in your inbox if you know it's there and you need to respond.  This is why some people spend most of their work day responding to e-mails.  It's harder to focus until you clear out everything else.

To maximize your attention, the advice is to segment out your day.  Set aside time for social networking.  Set aside time for e-mailing.  Set aside time for exercising, time for cooking.  And build in mental breaks where you allow yourself to daydream, allow your mind to wander.  It's during those breaks that we discover creative solutions to our problems.

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