Avoid Burnout and Take a Break

by Mackenzie Stewart
Updated 11/14/23 by Kenneth Medford

The title Avoid Burnout and Take a Break sounds like a joke to most of us. That’s because when someone says, “Make sure you take time for yourself,” we immediately think, “Excuse me, but how?” 

We all have a boatload of responsibilities to tend to every day, and usually, that means we end up putting ourselves last. According to my therapist, that’s not good. Well Leslie, how do I make sure I get all my adult stuff done and still have time for breaks, huh? These dishes won’t do themselves!

Leslie’s right though.

Taking breaks and time for rest can do all sorts of good things, like recharging your creativity and reducing your risk of heart disease.

Image of a 2024 guide to maximizing your time off using certain Federal holidays including Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. A great tool for learning to avoid burnout and take a break.

To further entice you to avoid burnout and take a break, here are some other cool things taking regular breaks can do for your health. 

  1. Small breaks can help reset and refresh your brain during long or arduous tasks.
  2. Taking a 10-minute walking break can mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
  3. Breaks help your short-term memory. A fifteen-minute break after studying can help you retain information better than trying to cram straight through a four-hour study session.
  4. Breaks reduce stress, which reduces inflammation in the body, which is good for just about everything.

At the very least, breaks are a nice way to take moments away from screens, spreadsheets, emails, and the pile of laundry that seems to never stop growing.

Here’s how you can incorporate more breaks into your busy routine.

Try for smaller breaks throughout the day. 

Think of these smaller breaks like the smaller increments you set for a savings goal. It’s much easier to find 15 or 20 minutes during the day than an hour or two. It’s a great way to take a break because you’re less tempted to try and do “just a few things” during those breaks, like dishes or a quick email. But like, what can you even do that only takes a few minutes? 

  • Go for a walk outside.
  • Scroll TikTok for pottery-making thirst traps.
  • Lay on the floor and cuddle with your dog.
  • Put on your current favorite song and pretend you’re performing in Madison Square Garden, even if you’re only in your car.
  • FaceTime with your bestie or your mom if you have a cool mom like that.
  • Find a good tree and sit under it.
  • Grab your favorite snack.
  • Drink some water and stretch your back, legs, and shoulders.

As mentioned before, incorporating a few small breaks throughout your day essentially does a quick Etch-A-Sketch reset for your brain and that helps you shake off stagnant energy and muscles. Remember, little things mean a lot when trying to avoid burnout.

Look for a time during the parts of your day that tend to be less busy.

All our daily lives look very different, and sometimes it’s easier to schedule a time to rest or take a break. Instead of jumping on Instagram when you first wake up, use those 10 or 15 minutes to make a really fancy cup of coffee or a bagel sandwich since you always skip breakfast. Parents, take 30 minutes after the kids hop on the bus for school and just enjoy the damn silence! Certain parts of your day are going to be more accommodating to you stepping away for a bit. Use that to your advantage, so you can fully enjoy your time.

Use your damn PTO.

Image of Mackenzie Stewart with a Chameleon. This is an ad for the Nav.it podcast season 4, episode 12 show featuring Mackenzie.
Listen to Mackenzie Stewart’s money story on the Nav.it podcast

No one gets brownie points for never taking time off. If you have PTO, then use it. It’s part of your compensation. You don’t even have to go on a fancy vacation. Take a random Tuesday off to binge-watch Broad City for the 10th time or go to the zoo. Point is, PTO doesn’t have to be for a special occasion, illness, or errands. It can be used to do absolutely nothing and be paid for it. 

If you don’t get PTO, budget your own.

Those without PTO find it the most difficult to avoid burnout, but remember: you can budget for anything! If you don’t get paid time off at work, set aside money in your own PTO fund, so you can take days off without worrying about working extra shifts to cover what you’re losing. Because nothing sucks more than coming back from vacation and having to work double shifts for a week to make up for your days off. 

Speaking of budgeting… 

Having a budget that can accommodate how you choose to take care of yourself is vital. 

Personally, one of my favorite ways to recharge when I’m at work is a coffee run. It’s a quick 15 or 20 minutes that I get to disengage from work completely and have time to myself with my main food group, iced coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Because this was important to me and helps me maintain sanity during the workweek, I make sure to have a line item in my budget just for my coffee runs. It keeps me from overspending during the week, while also providing a much-needed break on the regular. Maybe, instead of coffee during the week, you like to order out lunch and dinner on Wednesdays because it’s your busiest day of the week. Yes! Do that! Set up your Dinner Out fund, so you never have to feel guilty about skipping making dinner to eat Indian take-out while you watch Netflix.  

Try to indulge your inner child for a little bit. 

This is another tip from my lovely therapist. When we have spare time, we try to fill it with something we think is productive. Doing the dishes, throwing in a load of laundry, responding to emails, etc. What if, instead of doing something you think is productive, you do something you think is fun?

Think about this, when was the last time you colored? Remember how fun coloring used to be? Unfortunately, as we get older, we stop playing. I know, life happens, but fun time is actually very important for our health. Taking 15 minutes to color or craft something has so many benefits! Namely, it helps your brain think in a more creative way. Do you have a work issue that has been driving you crazy all week? Try taking a half-hour break and zone out with some Play-Doh or making a bracelet. This is part of that whole brain reset thing with the added benefit of helping our brain learn to solve problems in a more creative manner in the long run.

Remember, you do not need to earn rest.

Your body needs rest as much as it needs food and water. Yes, you will have times that you need to be in hustle mode. Hi, I’m a college student working a full-time job and a side-gig plus extra freelancing. I totally understand having a packed schedule. However, I also know I cannot do all those things well, without having moments of rest.

We don’t work well without rest.

We don’t parent well without rest.

We don’t heal well without rest.

Your rest doesn’t need to be a week in Cabo. Although I wouldn’t complain if it was. It can really be sitting in the park at lunch to enjoy a nice day, or taking a mental health day to take yourself on a movie date.

Start small as you incorporate more breaks and rest into your day. Use that PTO, and don’t forget that what is restful to you might be different for another. 

However you recharge your proverbial battery, just know you absolutely deserve it, regardless of what you’ve accomplished in your day.

Mackenzie Stewart launched her site Life at 23k to fill a void for the people who can’t afford to invest or start an emergency fund. She wants to find and give financial advice that the underemployed minimum wage worker can use – not just those making great salaries with marketable degrees already.

You can find her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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