Why you should take a real break over the holiday period

  • Kate Hardy, Author |

3 min read

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air: Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.

You must understand that and strive for balance in your life”

Brian Dyson, former Vice Chairman and COO of Coca-Cola

2020 has been a year like no other, leaving many of us feeling overwhelmed. New responsibilities such as home-schooling, the tendency to work longer hours and increased barriers to getting healthy exercise may have exacerbated the problem. A well-deserved break is calling, and we have the science to show you why taking one is so important…

The science behind switching-off

The autonomic nervous system has two branches: the sympathetic (also known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response) and the parasympathetic (also known as the ‘rest and digest’ state). If we don’t fully switch off, we won’t activate the parasympathetic branch. So what? This state is when our bodies heal, recuperate, digest, sleep and feel calm. The consequences of staying in the fight or flight response state for prolonged periods can be damaging: poor quality sleep, compromised immunity, poor digestion, chronic illness and heightened anxiety.

We can’t outperform our computers

If the risk of ill health isn’t enough to convince you to take a proper respite, let’s take a look at the behavioural science behind creativity and rest. Human downtime does not equate to the ‘rest’ a computer gets when it is switched off. When humans rest, the body continues to learn – particularly when asleep.

Some of the greatest geniuses – Darwin, Hardy, Poincare – all worked around just four hours a day during the times of the day when our human biological clocks decree the highest alertness. Periods of rest similar to those they took have been found to help the brain to retain knowledge, spur creativity and trigger productivity, leading to some of the greatest inventions of our time. This approach – doing our best by doing intense activity followed by equally intense periods of rest – is known as ‘intelligent rest’.

We are also dissimilar to computers in that computers don’t care whether its 4pm or 4am, or whether they’ve been working for 10 hours or 10 minutes. If we, as humans, work the endless hours that computers do, we will experience fatigue, poor performance and burnout.

So, rest isn’t only necessary for survival, but for the creative capabilities that power us to be our best. This applies with friends and family over the festive period as well as with colleagues when we return to work in January.

So how can we ensure we fully switch off over the holidays?

  • Switch off your work laptop and phone and put them away
  • Find what makes you feel most relaxed and factor in time each day to do that
  • Spend proper, quality time with loved ones
  • Get some good quality deep sleep. Remember, this is when lots of our thinking, healing and learning happens, despite us not being consciously aware of it
  • Engage with mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga and being in nature
  • Above all - don’t feel guilty about resting! Remember, it is so important for your health

Want to learn more about behavioural science at KPMG?

Get in touch:  behaviouralscienceunit@kpmg.co.uk