Some of the most brilliant minds, including Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, were known to have worked only four hours a day, resting for sustained periods of time in between. Arguably, this downtime enabled their intellectual pursuits just as much as their focus and intense work ethic. Literature constantly supports the simple sentiment that rest is necessary for human function, productivity, and well-being, yet it continues to be so hard to implement in our own busy lives.
Especially for working women with families, “having it all” with only 24 hours in a day can mean rest is sacrificed in the best of times. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic, and you undoubtedly relate, regardless of your familial status. Despite the absence of lengthy commutes and social plans, free time to relax your brain feels like a rarity. There’s a legitimate reason for this: “stress fatigue” stemming from the constant presence of uncertainty. According to Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School, “the worry of being impacted [by COVID-19] can loom larger than life on your sleep and mental bandwidth.” The consequence of an overactive mind is often insomnia. With everything going on—a pandemic, economic recession, civil unrest—can you ever disconnect?
The answer is yes. It might take some lifestyle changes here and there, but making space for rest is something to intentionally strive for every day—especially in times like these. Linda Shanock, who holds a Ph.D. in social psychology and is a professor of industrial organizational psychology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, says there are manageable ways to make rest a priority, from both a personal and an organizational standpoint.
No time for a full vacation? No problem
Did you have a leisurely vacation to Aruba planned pre-pandemic? Woo, that would have been nice, but maybe not possible or even enough, given our country’s attitude toward work. Lengthy periods of rest—while certainly desirable—can be difficult to bring to reality in an American “go go go” work culture that tends to discourage time off, Shanock says. This type of “hustle” culture has proven itself unsustainable and ineffective during high-stress times like during the pandemic, often causing feelings of depression, worthlessness, and burnout. The pressures that come with a successful job inherently pervade all other parts of one’s life, which during times of high stress, means rest is sacrificed even more than it would’ve been otherwise. Even if you can’t time off, though, Shanock says breaks can still be meaningful.
This is where the microbreak comes in. If you’ve never heard of these, they’re exactly what they sound like: tiny snippets of time where your brain is allowed to turn off. “Microbreaks can even be an unplanned three minutes, taking a break during your workday and doing something else that disengages you psychologically or detaches you from your job. So whether it’s just daydreaming or taking a walk or looking something up on the Internet, there’s a whole typology of these microbreaks,” Shanock says.
Indeed, research shows that microbreaks are super restorative and help the mind with reducing stress, increasing engagement, and making work more fun. Moreover, they improve concentration within the span of a few minutes. Another perk to microbreaks: No one has to know you’re taking one. Shanock attributes the discrete nature of this creative rest tactic to its overall appeal to employees who often feel guilty or even embarrassed for taking a lengthier break. Mastering the microbreak doesn’t take much time, but it requires mindfulness. Practice makes perfect.
10 ways to take microbreaks during the workday
Hold your stretches for a few seconds and concentrate on your breathing. It’s mindful, meditative, and purely relaxing. Try out different poses from the comfort of your desk chair.
2. Do the 20/20 /20 exercise for eye strain
Staring at a screen for as little as two hours can create eye strain and muscle pain in the neck. Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds staring at an object around the office (or at-home office) 20 feet away from you. It’s seriously refreshing.
3. Watch something
Whether it’s an SNL sketch, a “Try Not To Laugh” challenge on YouTube, the news, or even TikTok, turning to videos is a great way to find distraction from work. The tough part is making sure three minutes doesn’t turn into three hours.
4. Get up to fill your water bottle or make tea
A simple walk to the water fountain or break room is sufficient enough to recharge you. Hydration is a bonus.
5. Take a power nap
If you’re working from home right now, a 10-minute nap should be feasible since the couch is probably 10 feet away. If you’re at a desk at work, that might be slightly more difficult. Not to worry, closing your eyes for a few minutes still has a restorative and energizing effect.
Spend a few minutes copying down a favorite quote, mantra for the day, or even filling out your planner or bullet journal. Using different colored pens is an added bonus.
7. Take a phone call
If you promised your mom you’d call her or have a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with, take a few minutes to do so. A short conversation will ease your mind and distract you from the stresses of the workday.
8. Go outside
If the weather is nice, this is one of the best ways to spend a microbreak. A quick stroll in the yard gets you some exercise, fresh air, and Vitamin D.
9. Take BuzzFeed quizzes
Quizzes exist for literally every topic under the sun. Wondering which Harry Potter house you’d be sorted into? How many state capitals you know? BuzzFeed has you covered. (Our team likes the bagel quiz .)
10. Do a quick workout
Jumping rope, jumping jacks, a few squats, or any other form of quick, intensive cardio will get your heart rate up and your endorphins going in no time. Do this 10 times per day and there’s no need to hit the gym.
Read more: Why You Should Keep A Work Journal
It’s all about scheduling
If you’re someone who lives by your planner, scheduling in rest throughout your week may be a good way to ensure you’re meeting your needs, Shanock says. Strategy is key here, especially if you work intense hours for your job or have a partner and children: “You can say‘Okay, I know daycare runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but I’m going to need an extra half hour to get a run in or to read a book, so I’m going to schedule longer care for my child or trade off responsibilities with my husband.”
Thinking ahead about where you can squeeze in breaks for your mind and body, even if it means having to move things around a bit, is well worth your time. At the end of the week, you can then have a weekly downtime review, where you set aside a few minutes to reflect on the effectiveness of your rest schedule, how you spent your rest periods, and what worked vs. what didn’t.
While scheduling breaks might seem counterintuitive (shouldn’t they just be spontaneous?), being intentional serves a vital purpose. Shanock says that since women are often responsible for the bulk of the caretaking responsibilities and the emotional health of the family in addition to their careers, setting boundaries and scheduling in rest are crucial.
Did you know…
Despite a generational shift toward more equitable relationships, according to a study released by Lean In in May 2020 , women with full-time jobs, a partner, and children report spending a combined 71 hours a week on child care, elder care, and household chores during COVID-19; men report 51 hours. The 20-hour difference, as Lean In expertly points out, is the equivalent of women taking on a part-time job. We fully expect this to contribute to higher burnout rates among women, who were already prone to burnout to begin with , and even more women leaving the workforce to take on caretaking responsibilities full time. Learn how to project manage your partnership during COVID-19 to create a more equitable divide.
Finding a supportive workplace
Scheduling downtime and taking microbreaks are important self initiatives for rest, yes, but managers of workplaces should value their employees’ rest—and actively encourage them to seek it out—as well. “So much of a percentage of our lives these days is spent working so it really helps to have a work organization that values your contributions and cares about your well-being, which is what we view as perceived organizational support (POS),” Shanock says.
Supervisors play a significant role in this, by setting positive examples for their employees and taking on mentorship roles. For example, a supervisor could offer flexible deadlines to working women or allow them to design their own work schedule to best fit their current circumstances and responsibilities outside work. This makes room for rest, and reduces lots of the undue stress associated with working.
Modeling is important, too. If the supervisor herself were to step away from work-related emails and phone calls after a certain time, showing that she sets boundaries for herself and maintains a healthy work-life balance, her employees would be encouraged to do the same, Shanock says.
Plenty of leadership training is available to those in management roles to be able to provide the resources necessary to promote the rest of their employees. These are a few resources InHerSight has on hand to help managers (or precocious direct reports) navigate these conversations:
What wellness at work looks like
InHerSight utilizes ratings from women employees to generate overall scores for companies based on 16 metrics—wellness included. Learn about four companies that women say are the gold standard for wellness, and some of the coolest perks they offer to their employees. Read more
About our source
Linda Shanock is a professor of industrial organizational psychology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Her research focuses on perceived organizational support, employee well-being outcomes, and interventions to increase workplace supportiveness. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia Tech, a master’s degree in human behavior and organizational psychology from Kean University, and a Ph.D in social psychology from the University of Delaware.