Overwhelmed much these day? You might need to pause.

In an effort to practice what we preach, Marci and I paused and took August off to spend time with family and soak up the last bits of summer.

We are re-charged, ready to go and so happy to be back. And you guessed it, the first thing we want to share is how important it is to give yourself a break. Guilt free.

Study after study has proven that downtime and recovery for our mind, body and soul is a necessity. Giving ourselves a breather (long or short) can improve all aspects of life, including increased creativity and mental clarity. But many of us aren’t good at giving ourselves the down time we need. And if we don’t slow down, we are headed towards burnout. At best.

Dr Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and coauthor of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul says that because most of us are “bound to our eternal sense of responsibility” (to the demands of work, the pressure of paying bills, putting our kids through college), we have forgotten how to be still and enjoy doing nothing.

The late author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, wrote that “only a consistent, continuous dedication to self-renewal (rest, play, exercise, personal exploration) can empower an individual to maintain the sharp mental and physical edge necessary to succeed.”

Without this renewal,” says Covey, “the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. You can renew and better yourself through appropriate rest and relaxation, or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything.

Research shows that to a certain degree, our brains are constantly active, even when we are doing nothing.

According to Marcus Raichle, MD, a neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine, connected regions in the brain kick into neurological and metabolic hyperactivity whenever given a break from tasks that require focus. This suggests that whatever “the brain is doing while apparently doing nothing may actually be profoundly important.” So, giving your mind a break may be one the best ways to bring about those “A-ha!” moments!

Not only are our bodies in-tune with circadian rhythms (night-and-day cycles), but they also respond to ultradian rhythms —rhythms that regulate natural fluctuations of activity and rest, exertion and recovery.

According to psychobiology researcher Ernest Rossi, PhD, an expert on ultradian rhythms, we are wired to take a 20-minute break after every 90 minutes of intense focus or activity in order to operate at optimal efficiency. “During periods of focused mental or physical activity,” explains Rossi, “the body runs through its available stores of energetic and chemical compounds that allow us to think clearly. It then starts accumulating stress-related chemicals that create brain fog, distractibility, irritability or fatigue, making you increasingly ineffective, frustrated and stressed out.” Prolonged fatigue can diminish your ability to pick up on your body’s cues for rest, leading to ultradian stress syndrome (USS). Not only can USS decrease productivity but can also wreak havoc on your immune system.

So, how can you be more in-tune with your ultradian rhythms?

Stop. Smell the Roses.

Spend time outdoors with your thoughts and emotions while taking in long deep breaths of fresh air. Take a minute to contemplate the beauty of your natural surroundings and your life, as well as the world around you. These moments of pleasure activate the feel-good centers of our brains, releasing chemicals into the bloodstream that can make us more energized and efficient. Try seeking pleasurable, contemplative moments every day.

Give a helping hand.

Performing random acts of kindness is another source of pleasure. Studies have identified a phenomenon known as the helpers’ high – when feel-good endorphins are released into your bloodstream and brain they boost our immunity system.

The Natural Anti-depressant: Exercise

Physical activity every day is a great way to keep your energy high and your emotional and physical wellness balanced, thanks to the production and release of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. “As we exercise, brain cells are pushed to release more neurotransmitters — so they act like Prozac and Ritalin at just the right dose,” explains Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, MD, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (Little, Brown and Company, 2008). So get your booty moving!

Go on vacation. Or a staycation.

Sometimes, you need more than a walk outside. Give yourself an extended break, enough time to fully recover and to realize how great life might actually be. With a long pause comes inspiration, clarity, fresh perspective and an emotional uplift.

Pausing allows you to

Review priorities, adjust goals and declutter

Frantic daily life and hectic routines can throw us off track and prevent us from obtaining goals. With pause comes a chance to re-evaluate and re-prioritize our goals and  adjust focus accordingly. We can get better idea as to the direction we are headed as well as reflect on where we have been.

Take time to clean out the excess (in your physical environment and your mind) and keep only the positive, allowing more room for meaningful events and caring people.

Discover new perspective and regain passion

Pressing pause helps expand our consciousness and open our minds to new things. When we are no longer attached to preconceived notions and practices, we are able to see things differently.

When to pause?

At a crossroads or difficult situation

When your mind is everywhere at once, good decisions (or any decision at all) can be harder to make. Give yourself time to consider pros and cons of your situation, and only move forward when you are comfortable with next steps. Before engaging in a challenging conversation or working through a difficult situation, take some time for a few deep breaths. When your mind is calm, you make better choices.

Also, recognize “the moment” You know that moment right before you lose your mind? This is key moment to identify. In the heat of a moment, before saying that thing you can’t take back, or doing something you can’t undo…PAUSE. Sometimes a few deep breaths will do therick. Sometimes, you might need to walk away and deal with a situation later when clearer, calmer heads prevail.

Consistently 

As we mentioned earlier, a growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves creativity and memory. Skipping breaks can lead to stress, exhaustion and a halt on creativity.

It’s cheaper and more enjoyable to give yourself short regular breaks to replenish your strength and mental fortitude instead of burning out and getting sick. The longer you put it off, the longer break you will eventually need!

When overwhelmed or stuck in a rut

If you are feeling uninspired, unmotivated —or even if you just feel like you’re considering a new direction—take a step back from your everyday life. Dive into a new adventure or relax in nature to contemplate the various directions you could take. A week on vacation or a time-out to do some soul searching could be just what the doctor ordered.

For contemplation (whether meditation, breathwork, or a nature hike)

Meditation is a great way to pause.

My favorite is the morning pause. Taking time for silence and stillness even before getting out of bed. Starting the day with calm and gratitude, and visualizing your intentions is a powerful way to get the day going.

It’s all about reconnecting with your energy source, your power. If you’re feeling like you’ve been disconnected, it’s time to slow down and be still.  Do it now… reset and take back your control.

Feeling lost on your personal journey towards health? Read Marci’s post here on how she navigated hers, and how you can too.