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Episode 115 | TAKING BREAKS & HOLIDAYS (or The Importance of a Little R&R)

Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Annie Dillard.

All adults, suffer from one form of stress or another; work life, family life, employment vs. unemployment, deadlines, bills and the list goes on.

According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Stress takes its toll in part on our body's ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even the ability to avoid injury. Stress can lead to all kinds of health problems including depression, anxiety, and even memory loss. Our decision-making ability can be severely impaired by stress.

Krauss says Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines.

I‘ve wanted to dip into this for a good while as I really didn’t take a holiday for 18 years. When eventually I did stop it was not because I chose to but because I had to. I crashed and burned in a spectacular breakdown in 2012 and it was forced upon me. I think sometimes we can get lost in the creativity of our work and in the focus that we bring to it but if we gave ourselves a break, literally and figuratively, we could all do a lot better.

Think back to when you were working on a problem, something you just couldn’t work out. You may have spent hours on it, doubled down, tried different options but just couldn’t get it solved.

Then you stepped away for a break; a walk, you might have listened to music or sat and made a cup of coffee. Then you went back to your problem and there it was, the solution. Why does this happen? Well, that’s what we will be discussing today.

There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither. Alan Cohen

According to an article in Psychology Today by Meg Selig, for work that revolves around thinking, it’s the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that needs the rest. “When you are doing goal-oriented work that requires concentration, the PFC keeps you focused on your goals.” She explains, “The PFC is also responsible for logical thinking, executive functioning and using willpower to override impulses.” unquote That is a lot of responsibility on one part of the brain.

According to Selig there is an abundance of value in taking work breaks and that they are essential for your physical and emotional wellbeing.

She writes, “Constant sitting—whether at your desk, the TV, or in the lecture hall—puts you at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.” Moving every so often as in walking, stretching or doing yoga for example, can reduce the negative effects from inactivity. Research has shown that even a short, 5-minute walk can improve your health.

This is something I’m increasingly aware of and in fact every day I try (but don’t aways succeed) in breaking up my day with a swim or walk or even a trip out for a coffee to keep myself moving. Sometimes I’ll go along to the kitchen which is at the far end of the corridor from my office just for the sake of stretching my legs, and I tell you it improves my focus dramatically.

Breaks also prevent ‘Decision Fatigue’ as explained by author S.J. Scott in his article, Psychology of Daily Routines (Or Why We Struggle with Habits). He says that the need to make frequent decisions throughout your day can wear down your willpower and reasoning ability. Citing a famous study, Scott notes that Israeli judges were more likely to grant paroles to prisoners after their two daily breaks than after they had been working for a while. As decision fatigue set in, the rate of granting paroles gradually dropped to near 0% because judges resorted to the easiest and safest option—just say no. Decision fatigue can lead to simplistic decision-making and procrastination.

Breaks also restore motivation, especially for long-term goals.

According to author Nir Eyal When we work, our prefrontal cortex makes every effort to help us execute our goals. But for a challenging task that requires our sustained attention, research shows briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation later on.

We’ve long known that one purpose of sleep is to help us strengthen our memories but there is also evidence that resting while awake also helps improve memory formation. Science writer Ferris Jabr summarizes the benefits of breaks as follows Downtime, he says, replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life … moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.

I found an interesting bit about all this when I was studying the pomodoro technique. That’s where you work in 25-minute sprints with at first a 5-minute break and then after 4 or 5 a longer break and it showed that as your focus starts to fall away towards the end of each 25-minute work block that it’s right back almost at the top again after just a 5-minute interval.

Even a short, five-minute walk has been shown to improve your health, but it also helps you remove yourself from your work environment and clear your head. In fact, researchers at Stanford studied the connection between walking and creativity. They found that a walking break led to more creative ideas than a sitting break.

One thing is absolutely certain, you should change your environment to help your mind reset, relax and recharge. Go outside and sit on a bench. Take a stroll in a nearby park. Go someplace other than your regular work environment.

The lunch break is one of the most important times of your workday. It allows you to re-energize for the rest of the coming day. It’s also a time when you can add a change of local to help your brain recover and rejuvenate and any activity you can add to your lunch break helps with your decision-making abilities, your motivation, your productivity and creativity. It is a huge win for your physical and mental health.

Can’t get away from your desk…then take a breather. Literally. Take time to take slow, deliberate breaths for about 30 seconds. This is a mini form of meditation that will help your mind and body get through the day.

A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking. Earl Wilson

Not many things in life compare to the joy you feel when you book a hotel and flight for your next holiday and if you can’t afford a luxury vacation then you can always try a staycation. Like the shorter breaks we have talked about before, longer holidays at home or abroad have strong benefits too. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Improved physical health – taking a vacation every two years will lessen the risk of coronary heart disease or heart attacks.

  2. Improved mental health - When you take a vacation, feelings of calm arise and relieve stress, which allows the body and mind to heal in ways that it couldn't if it were still under pressure.

  3. Greater well-being - One study found that three days after vacation, subjects' physical complaints, quality of sleep, and mood had improved compared to before vacation. These gains were still present five weeks later, especially in those who had more personal time and overall satisfaction during their vacation.

  4. Increased mental motivation - Many who return from vacation are more focused and productive. Taking time off can be like getting a tune-up for the brain, improving your mental health and cognition.

  5. Improved family relationships - Spending time enjoying life with loved ones can keep relationships strong. A study by the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services found that women who took vacations were more satisfied with their marriages.

  6. Decreased burnout - Employees who take regular time to relax are less likely to experience burnout, making them more creative and productive than their overworked, under-rested counterparts.

  7. Boosted happiness - Research shows planning a vacation can boost your happiness. Some people experience an elevated mood up to eight weeks before the trip.

After a while, just staying alive becomes a full-time job. No wonder we need a vacation. Michael Zadoorian

So don’t take breaks and holidays for granted folks. It’s all in the name of good health. Take a vacation if you can. A holiday can help you feel refreshed and more prepared to handle whatever comes when you return.

And breaks increase productivity and creativity. Anyone who has logged long hours without any breaks will know how stressful and exhausting it can be. Inserting breaks into your workday will refresh your mind and massively improve your creativity, your motivation and your creativity.

Call to Action

You call to action today is to check that you are taking breaks when you need them. I’d also encourage you to surf the web a little to see if u can find an inspiring holiday spot to look forward to.

Today’s episode was written by Ian O’Neill who some of you may know from the How They Did It: Filmmaking podcast and it was originally meant to go out in 2020. Well, Covid put paid to that so I am revisiting it now, albeit in a cut down form to suit the new format.

In next week’s show I’ll be highlighting another 3 Toxic archetypes which you need to look out for.

End quote:

I hope to see you there but in the mean time I’ll end with some words from Author and Poet, Jack Adam Weber who said The vacation we often need is freedom from our own mind.

Researched & Written by:

Ian O'Neill from the "How the Did It: Filmmaking" podcast.

Listen to Ian's show RIGHT HERE


This episode is sponsored by Scare Scotland. Providing creature actors, Scare actors and specialist talent for events, Film Productions, TV Productions, Scare tours and attractions.

Season 9 Executive Producer: Christopher McPhillips from Artos Digital

2-time winners of 'Social Media Agency of the Year' at the Prestige Awards; Artos Digital specialise in marketing communications, coaching and personal branding. Owner Christopher McPhillips launched the business from his home in Bathgate and now works alongside his wife, Electra, for specialised event-management and fundraising. Enjoying a broad portfolio of clients over the years, ranging from established enterprises to start-up's - a good fit for Artos Digital given their adaptable and agile approach. Christopher and Electra have combined their talents for three significant clients this past year: Reconnect, a SCIO who run the Regal Theatre in Bathgate; Pro2 Wrestling in Ayr; and Puppet Animation Scotland in Edinburgh.


How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers

Ferris Jabr, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime:

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.

The Importance of Vacations to Our Physical and Mental Health

30 Ideas for Summer Fun, Staycation Style

Importance of taking a vacation

Thanks: A Himitsu Music: Adventures by A Himitsu


— Attribution 3.0 Unported— CC BY 3.0

Music released by Argofox

Music provided by Audio Library –––


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