The productivity myth - why taking a break is vital for your health

Do you ever feel like taking a break? Chances are you do, because as a society we are experiencing more stress and exhaustion than ever before. A more important question is: do you take action on it? Chances are, you don't.

Why is taking a break so freaking hard for us? 

It's conditioning. From a very young age, we are taught to achieve, work, and persevere, if we want to be successful. This happens from kindergarten until university. Looking back on my education, I remember it as a long chain of 'things to do or learn' in six years of elementary school, 'homework and school exams' in my 6 years highschool, and 6-week blocks of study leading up to a test in Med School, six years in a row.

To be short: 18 years of working, of pushing through. And although I was blessed with good learning abilities, it didn't make a difference, I never felt 'off duty'. During Med School, I worked in a nursing home, spending every free evening, weekend or holiday season at my side job to pay for my education and living expenses. 

Taking breaks is really hard for me. There are inner voices telling me I'm lazy. That I should do something and be more productive. Now I'm a writer, coach, and online entrepreneur, I have to spend time with myself, contemplating, in a creative process. Which is sometimes frightening, because I don't see immediate results. This is the productivity myth, that in order to be successful, in order to create, we need to 'do stuff'.

We are so conditioned to always be productive. To do lists are holy, calendars are full, every minute of silence is filled with social media or text messages.

However, this is not how we are designed, as humans. We are a part of nature, and nature knows pauses. Winter, for example, is nature taking a break. There is no growth, no harvest. Only rest, and silence, necessary to digest the fallen leaves and other plant material deep in the soil to fertilize the earth for the coming season of growth. 

As humans, we also have things to digest. Life events. Stress. Food. Toxins. Information. The digestion of everything we take in takes time. 

We need to unlearn everlasting productivity. We need to learn how to take a break, from our study, work, technology, our thoughts, the shoulds, and our beliefs about laziness.

Our body needs rest. The nervous system has two highways, one for action and energy use, and one for rest and restoration. If we overuse the action-system (the sympathetic nervous system), we are always using energy, and the body has no reserves to restore tissues and cells, and to recover from stress. The other part (the parasympathetic nervous system) is extremely important for recovery, restoration, digestion, and growth. Our nervous system can't process if we don't allow for the restorative part to do its job. 

If we are always in action-mode, addicted to business, because it makes us feel good about ourselves (because we have been taught our whole lives that we are worthy when busy), we can never process anything. This persistent action-mode will cause adrenal fatigue, burnout, or other depletion syndromes in the long run. Nature will enforce a winter upon us if we don't listen.

That is what burnout, depression, physical illnesses can symbolize, a forced and prolonged winter. Sometimes, a long period of much-needed rest, silence, and digestion is the only way for the body to recover and heal. The problem is, a forced winter is out of your control.

To really be productive, to be of service, to be able to live and take care of yourself, your children, and to do everything that is important to you, you need to take a break often! Indulge in it. Enjoy it, make it easy and pleasant to take a break!

Take control of your health and energy now, before it's too late.