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How to take a break without “unplugging”

Woman walking along the Treetop Adventure at Capilano Suspension Bridge, North Vancouver

If there has been one constant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – aside from wearing a mask, washing your hands and maintaining a healthy two-metre distance from, well, everyone – it is screen time, screen time and more screen time.

Virtual meetings, online school and an endless stream of messages and emails can leave you in a screen-induced haze. And while it is advisable to take breaks from all those screens, there are ways to use technology to give your brain a break from the daily grind.

According to this recent article from Harvard Business Review, the best breaks incorporate one or more of the following:

Get moving. Researchers have found that taking regular breaks that get your body moving, even if it’s just a quick walk around the block, can have a significant impact on your physical energy levels and comfort without reducing productivity.

Connect with other humans. While we have been warned against gathering with people outside our households, for the time being, taking time to connect with friends, family and colleagues (talking about non-work-related things, of course) can help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Do something different. Studies have shown that incorporating a little non-work-related mental stimulation into your day came prime your brain to tackle work challenges more effectively, even if it involves a screen. Research posted on Frontiers in Psychology in 2018 showed that playing video games can improve mental processing speed, reaction times and working memory.

So, let’s look at some examples of tech-based breaks that meet these criteria.

Get an on-screen workout. Combine gaming with movement with physically active games like Beat Saber or Wii Sports. Or search out an online workout or yoga video and get moving!

Sing it out. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean a workout. Studies have shown that the physiological mechanisms that go along with singing make it a powerful stress reducer. And while you won’t be visiting any karaoke bars in the near future, don’t discount the power and fun of YouTube karaoke! No matter your musical taste, there are a plethora of YouTube tracks ready for your next big solo.

Listen in. Fire up your favourite audiobook or podcast and pick up your knitting, do the dishes, or go for a stroll around the neighbourhood, all while listening to a short story, novel or your favourite podcaster. But make sure you’re not trying to pack in a little more work or study time by listening to a business book – the whole point is to combat the emotional disconnect that can set in when you’re working remotely, especially if you live alone. Get engrossed in some good old-fashioned fiction, and you will return to your workstation feeling refreshed and ready to reconnect with your co-workers.

Clear the clutter. Studies have shown that household clutter can make people overwhelmed and depressed, and if you’re working from home, you’re not getting that eight-hour break from its impact. Try picking a small decluttering project, like that pile of papers that never seems to get dealt with or that messy junk drawer in the kitchen and take 10 minutes to whip it into shape. The effect can be quite calming.

For more suggestions, visit hbr.org.


Published on Mar. 8, 2021.