taking a break to make a breakthrough

I went on holiday to Austria recently.  It was a week in the mountains with nothing to do but enjoy the sunshine, take advantage of the remaining snow and relax.

I’m not telling you about this to brag; I understand that I’m very privileged to have been able to take this holiday, but to share that actually going away gave me time to reflect on my wellbeing and the steps I’d been taking to look after myself (or not, as was the case!).

When I left for the holiday I knew that I was tired.  My tiredness was definitely related to poor sleep due to environmental rather than medical factors.  Until I actually took the break and stopped, I hadn’t noticed just how tired I was.  That’s when I reflected on just how much the poor sleep was having an impact on my every-day life – including my work.  Little stressors which should have been easily navigated were suddenly major obstacles for me and I had to work hard to keep everything going, my concentration levels were definitely not what they should have been and I needed to break up even the easiest of tasks in order to complete them sufficiently.  My health was suffering; every low level virus was finding a home in my body and thriving, and I was entering into a cycle of never-ending colds – much to the delight of my colleagues in the open-plan office.

This infographic from the Pulse Institute demonstrates how a lack of sleep can impact on your health and your work.

AsleepOnTheJob-1

So what changed while I was in Austria to make such a difference in a short space of time?  Well, I actually looked after myself.  I ate well and took time to give my body enough fuel to see me through each day.  I exercised – walking in the clean mountain air, skiing and swimming daily and, most importantly, I slept at least 8 hours every night (unheard of for me when I’m at home).

I acknowledge that I had taken a complete break from home and work-life stressors, but when I returned to the UK I could definitely notice a difference in my wellbeing.  It was easier for me to get up in the morning, I felt more energised, I was more engaged with work and I was less inclined to overreact to irritations.  The question was how to sustain this feeling once I was back in the daily routine of working and the holiday ‘honeymoon period’ had gone?

Here is what’s working for me at the moment:

  • I set my alarm for the same time every weekday morning and I try not to hit the snooze button and get out of bed straight away.
  • I eat breakfast every morning, have dinner and tea (we’re in Sheffield), with a few snacks in between.
  • I’m trying my best not to rely on caffeine and sugar to sustain me throughout the day. Mint tea is my current go-to at 3pm on an afternoon, but custard creams are still sneaking in here and there.
  • I’m completing some form of daily exercise and with no snowy mountains to hurl myself down, it’s been walking the dog on new routes so that we both get to see something different that is fitting the bill.

As for the actual sleep…it’s a work in progress, but I am getting there.  If you’re interested, The Sleep Council have practical ways of improving your sleeping habits.

I suppose I’ve shared this as an example of #takebreaksmakebreakthroughs.  I needed to take a break from my usual routine to be able to acknowledge that it was not beneficial to my health or wellbeing and that I needed to make changes to see a long term benefit.  I flew out to Austria with an annoying eye twitch (apologies to anyone who I may have winked at unintentionally) and returned refreshed and with a plan to keep it at bay.

If my experience resonates with you, I hope that you too can find ways to make small, positive changes to your wellbeing routine.  In June we’ll be hosting our annual researcher wellbeing week – keep an eye on the Think Ahead newsletters and Researchwell twitter account for events and activities to support you in your wellbeing journey.

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