Always Take Your Break

My sister told me that she works through her break. “It’s only fifteen minutes. Why bother taking it?” Don’t do this. You should always take your break. Always. Why? Because your job will kill you if you don’t.

If you MUST do something during those breaks, use that time to work on your own projects. There’s always going to be a struggle between going for the thing you REALLY want in life, and surviving the obstacles that get thrown your way. We usually compromise by just focusing on other people’s work at the detriment of our own stuff, but I think there’s a better way.

This struggle is what Steven Pressfield calls resistance in “The War of Art”. The more you want something, to play, to be recognized, to do something that makes you happy and not something that someone pays you the least amount of money and takes the most amount of your time, the more resistance you’re going to face.

This is especially true because, although people are all about play, people are also herd animals. We don’t like it when anyone tries to stand out from the crowd and do something that’s different from everyone else, because the rest of us take it as a personal attack. Humans are hardwired to think that someone’s win is their loss.

As Dale Carnegie once pointed out in “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: We are all the hero of our own story, so we tend to take any deviation from our own story as an attack on the decisions we’ve made. If living a certain life was good for them, or working through their break is good for them, why isn’t it good for you?

A great example of this is that every culture on earth has some sort of mechanism in place to cut someone down when they try to stand out or differentiate themselves from the group. It’s no one’s fault, we’re wired that way, but that doesn’t make it right. Google “Tall Poppy Syndrome” for just one example.

But we can’t continue on the path a lot of us are on, doing things because we’ve been told to do them and not things we want to do, because it’s killing us.

Pressfield gets deep into the philosophical aspects of what this resistance does to us, and I find a lot of that stuff interesting, but I also draw the line at “Not doing the thing you want in life gives you cancer” because that starts to get into Marianne Williamson territory, and that’s at least one presidential candidate who’s cuckoo for coco puffs. (As far as we know. I think anyone running for president of the United States, or really any elected office, is a sociopath, but that’s just me.)

So let’s be clear. I’m not making that specific connection. But I AM making the connection between doing work that makes you miserable, not taking breaks, and your health declining due to things like hypertension and depression. These are things we know, as scientific fact, that are correlated with doing that makes you miserable, and both those things can kill you. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease. A deeper analysis of CDC data also reveals that heart disease is often neck and neck with cancer in terms of being the leading cause of death.

In addition, we also know that 120,000 people a year do die from poor management and workplace unhappiness, according to Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer and his fellow researchers at Stanford University, who published their findings in the book “Dying for a Paycheck.”

Here are a few examples from that book about how the workplace can kill you and make the rest of us sick. Just in the event you think I’m exaggerating here about why you should always take your break, and ultimately, why you should focus on working on the things you want to work on in your life:

Blood Pressure and Wages: P34–35: “Consider as just one example the effects of employer decisions about wages. Although wages are partly determined by labor market conditions, there are low-wage and higher-wage employers in the same industry — Costco and Walmart being one example of such differences. And the evidence is clear: wages affect health.

For instance, a study of more than seventeen thousand people using Panel Study of Income Dynamics data reported a negative and strongly statistically significant correlation between wages and the self-reported (based on a physician’s diagnoses) incidences of hypertension. The data show that the higher the wages earned, the lower the likelihood of reporting high blood pressure. The effects of wages on health was greater for women and for younger working people between twenty-five and forty-four years old. This was a prospective longitudinal study so that wages in an earlier wave of the study were used to predict newly diagnosed high blood pressure, thereby helping to establish the direction of the causal relationship. The evidence showed that a doubling of wages was related to a 25 to 40 percent diminished risk of hypertension.”

Heart attacks and workplace stress: P13: ”Black Monday”: “Systematic data buttress the scores of case examples I uncovered in my research. There is the so-called Black Monday Syndrome, the fact that more people have heart attacks on Monday morning than at other times during the week, maybe because they are back at work after the weekend. The prevalence of heart attacks on Monday morning has caused hospitals to staff emergency rooms to correspond to the increased risk. The aptly named American Institute of Stress has collected numerous studies of stress. Some highlights from these data:

-Job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and … it has escalated progressively over the past few decades.

-80% of workers in the Attitudes in the American Workplace survey reported feeling stress on the job.

-Two separate studies reported that 10% of employees said that there was physical violence or an assault in the workplace because of job stress.”

And here’s my personal favorite, since at one point I was eating at Chipotle almost every day, which may or may not have led to my first heart attack …

People go to work sick, which makes the rest of us sick: P125: “The BBC reported on a 2014 survey that found that more than 25% of US employees said “they always go to work when they are ill”, while “nearly a quarter of US adults have been fired or threatened with the sack for taking time off to recover from illness or to care for a sick loved one.” A representative survey of one thousand American adults reported that 62% said they had gone to work sick. Working while ill is not just bad for the individual’s productivity and for possibly making coworkers sick. Mexican fast food chain Chipotle “partly blamed a 2015 outbreak of the norovirus vomiting bug on employees who had come to work sick.”

So don’t take my word for it. Or even Pressfield’s. Resistance really can make you, and the rest of us, sick. Take your breaks. Use them properly. Rest, and encourage your coworkers to do the same.

B.J. Mendelson is the author of “Social Media Is Bullshit” from St. Martin’s Press.

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