Hitting the pause button to stop and reflect can help us find inner freedom and tap into our huge power resources, according to the experts.
Taking a break is so important to our mental health and wellbeing that most industrialised countries have legislated for employees to be entitled to timeout on a daily, weekly and yearly basis. Nevertheless, in the 24/7 technological age, where we’re always just a click away from our social network, or an email away from colleagues or clients, stress seems to be a very real part of life.
In 2012, business consultancy Regus surveyed 16,000 professionals worldwide and found that six in 10 workers in major global economies were experiencing increased workplace stress. And in the UK in 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
So what’s going on? Have we lost the ability to switch off? It seems that way if we take a look at how we spend our free time. At midday we often have a working lunch, with our ears to the phone and eyes glued to emails. Weekends are often full of leisure activities, and on holiday many of us try to pack as much as possible into the shortest time available: that holiday in Italy becomes an exhausting whirlwind of sightseeing and every moment of that trip to Australia is mapped out from start to finish in the minutest detail. We replace the demands of daily life with new demands in our free time. So when are we ever able to stand still, breathe and recharge our batteries?
Time out or burnout
Indeed, this non-stop treadmill of activity is a real threat to our mental wellbeing, according to Andreas Martin Eisen, a coach and self-styled ‘time-out adviser’, based in Bad Abbach, Germany. “We often lose our bearings in life because we are constantly trying to meet demands. There’s always someone who wants something from us, whether it‘s our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our partner or our children. We can lose the ability to listen to our inner selves and this is typically the point at which a crucial event pulls us up short and forces us to take stock,” he explains. Timeout is about taking a break from everything that your life has been made up of to date – work, family, friends, your comfort zone, your hobbies. “In your time out, you can be the person you really are. You can discover yourself anew and finally uncover your inner self,” says Eisen. This is particularly important if you are close to burnout.
If you don’t want it to come to this, Eisen recommends that you should regularly pause and take time out. “If you take the time once a week to think about exactly where you stand, you can avoid burnout.” But what does it really mean to pause and take time out? And how do you do it?
The here and now
Fleur Sakura Wöss, a Vienna-based Japanologist and Zen coach, and author of the book Innehalten (Pause for thought), knows all about this, having dedicated most of her life to the subject. “In our world we live mainly for the future, or we remember things that happened in the past,” she says. “Pausing for thought is the space in between, so to speak – a space that is unplanned and unoccupied, where you can freely decide in that moment what you do. It’s always an exhilarating feeling to experience this kind of freedom and power.”
But it’s not so easy for everyone to access this space. Because, even when we’re lying in a hammock, our minds are busy processing events from the past or making plans for the future. Real inner peace is not so easily achieved. “It’s like an inner flywheel that keeps up the momentum even when we have drawn to a halt,” explains Wöss. Pausing for thought needs time and ideally stillness. No deadlines, no telephone, no conversation.
However, it’s not necessary to have mastered Zen meditation in order to be able to do it. “A walk in the woods is just as good,” says Wöss. “As long as you go for long enough for the inner flywheel to come to rest. Then your eyes open and you become aware of things you had never noticed before. Regular pauses are always a source of strength and creativity.”
Even nature rests
This becomes clear when you look at the trees sprouting new leaves and flowers in the springtime. It really seems as if they used the winter to regain their strength in order to burst into blossom with new vitality in the shortest space of time. “We also have this natural rhythm in us,” says Wöss with conviction. “We experience the strength of the spring and summer and the lull in autumn and winter.” In her opinion, winter is ideal for pausing and taking time out. Instead of going skiing or visiting relatives, she recommends staying at home to discover your inner self. “You must be able to make friends with boredom in order to really pause for thought.”
Winter has always been the time for retreat and reflection. It is associated with stillness and contemplation and has traditionally been used for reflecting on the past and making plans for the coming year. And if you take the time to really pause, you may well arrive at that space in between – the space where the strength and creativity for the next spring lie buried.