Working from home and covid 19 - How do you take a break when you work from home?

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

To start with some of my own musings: - For many people lock-down and the subsequent changes in working environments has been a mix. Key workers stretched to their limits and others being so flexible while navigating new ways of working. From the devastation of job losses to others adopting a more flexible home-based approach.

The latter involving a need to be professional while possibly sat in your slippers, having just rolled out of bed long enough to flatten you hair and make a hot drink, finding a quiet space to work where the kids won’t disturb you, so you can at least think. Change, “well I can’t change” haven’t we all heard or said that at some point? Well, we have all proven that we can change, when we really need to, even if we don’t want to.

How can we ensure that we are working constructively from home and get the most out of our day?

There is a vast amount of brain research nowadays and this is great news as we have for so long not understood how amazing and resilient the brain is. We are learning that we can change our thought patterns and ways of thinking.

What I am most interested in today is how people are adapting to working from home and are they being fair on their brains?

There are many benefits I’m sure to rolling out of bed and walking across the room to your laptop, no hurried walks to work, extra time sleeping, no commute home, tea, coffee and food on tap at no extra cost. However, with all these benefits how can we make sure that our day is corralled in some way, ensure that we do log off for lunch time, have that 10 minute break for coffee in the morning, and why do we need to get these parameters in place?

Well, it’s to help our creativity and allow our minds to focus on new solutions. Sitting for hours on end doesn’t support the brain in coming up with new resolutions and answer, those unexpected breaks you used to have in your office environment actually helped to give your prefrontal cortex (PFC) a well-earned rest.

It is a scientifically proven fact that daydreaming and refocusing support the function of our PFC. This is the thinking part of our brain and it deals with organising our day, answering emails, taking phone calls, dealing with queries and problem solving, to name just a few of its roles.

Working from home has robbed many professionals of the previously seen as mundane interactions e.g. commuting, chats at the water cooler etc., and studies show how important these opportunities are for small pockets of downtime.

Another interesting set of research by psychologist, Mark Beeman and reiterated by the neuroscientist Mark Waldman, discussed how having a positive and happy attitude supports you in finding the answers to problems, specifically when working in a goal orientated environment. Constant worry and mild anxiety inhibit the frontal lobes ability to problem solve, work on creative ideas and creative thinking.

By taking time out during the day, as brain breaks, allows the PFC to take a step back and see the bigger picture, refocusing the mind also provides opportunities for relaxation, fun, change of scenery and physical exercise. Having these moments where we are engaging the brain in a different way supports greater productivity at work and refreshes the mind, keeping you in that positive happy mind frame, where solutions are easier to reach.

In the same way it’s important to start your day without work leeching in, have breakfast and a coffee, read your book or gaze out of the window and similarly end your day in a timely manner. Head outdoors and do something completely different. When we don’t make these changes or set some boundaries, we end up burnt out, mentally fatigued and stressed. Planning our working day so that there is the chance to have a hot drink away from your desk is essential and taking at least 20 minutes for lunch will refresh you and give you a greater ability to focus.

So how can we build some of these brain breaks into our day?

We know that they are beneficial, and research shows that a brain break, or nap should be no longer than 20 minutes, and that 5 to 10 minutes can be sufficient for the brain to refresh its-self. Find that slot in your day, start booking some time for you. An advocate and teacher of this is Tony Schwartz a journalist and CEO of The Energy Project. He recommends starting each day with a good night’s sleep, then tackle the hardest job of your day so that it is done first thing in the morning, when your fresh and at your most alert. Plan for a regular power nap, short breaks, or meditations. Any of these ideas, or a combination of them all, will increase your work productivity. It’s also important to include the weekend when considering how to gain opportunity for resting your mind, go for a long walk, read a book, doing a crossword puzzle or meditating will allow you to be refreshed for the new week ahead.

Put away your laptop and phone, enjoy the world around you, because you are important, you need to put your mind and health first so that you can get back to work the next week with a positive attitude and happy refreshed mind.

What is our mind doing when we rest?

When we are resting our brains and minds are anything but still, it has been found that we have an intricate circuit called the default mode network (DMN) and this comes alive when we daydream, contemplate or are lost in thought. It has been found by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and other researchers working with her, that when we are in these times of rest and glazed looks, our brain is working on necessary processes. These range from larger issues like understanding behaviours to rationalising our moral beliefs. It is also a time for the brain to assimilate any new information it has learnt, to focus attention on the internal world of our minds and bodies and to look at situations in our lives that are unsettling and providing us with stress. When we daydream, we replay conversations and have imagined reruns with how it might have gone, if only we had said. We remember all the jobs we have to do, or have left unfinished and it is also a time of contemplation and self-examination where we look at ourselves and our behaviours towards others and we continue to add to our view of ourselves. It is a time where we can have those ‘aha’ moments or an epiphany because we have taken the focus away from the problem, we come up with a solution.

To support your brain breaks I have included two videos to some mindful relaxations that I have complied just for this reason, enjoy, relax, reboot.

5 Minute Short Relaxation

8 Minute Forest Walk Relaxation

Harness your mind

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