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Happy Holidays

The season of goodwill is almost upon us, and for most that means a well-earned break away from the office. Whether you’ll be spending  that time at home or in sunnier climes, here we look at why it’s so important to give your brain a holiday.

Article by Macfarlanes
brain holiday

GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR HOLIDAY

Plan ahead

When it comes to getting the most out of your holiday it all comes down to preparation, so start getting ready early. Put the dates of your holiday on a calendar you can physically see. That way you’ll be mentally working towards a ‘deadline’, and can schedule your work accordingly. Start prioritising your workload early, recognising you'll never get everything done, so set clear goals for what you want to finish before you leave, and what's okay to return to. Look at what's happening a month after your holiday so that you can anticipate things clients or colleagues may need and may come looking for during your break. And don't book anything important the day before your holiday or the first day back.

Delegate

Let your colleagues and clients know well in advance the dates you’ll be away. If you’re a manager, it’s the perfect time to practice letting go and trusting your team or key individuals with more responsibility. Meet with those who will be filling in for you to alert them to upcoming tasks and deadlines, and explain processes and procedures, making sure they know where key files are kept. Contact high priority clients at least a week before you leave, and ask them if there's anything they need before you leave, as the advance warning might prevent any potential problems from arising while you’re gone.

Detach and take control

Whilst on holiday, ideally you should be shutting down altogether, but this isn’t always practical. It’s up to you to determine if and when you are available for work. Set aside a specific time to check your emails, perhaps first thing in the morning, and then set your phone/computer aside for the rest    of the day. If you plan to shut down completely, except for emergencies, then ensure you define what “emergency” means.  

ENJOYING YOUR HOLIDAY

Enjoy yourself

The most important way to create happiness and well-being during and after your holiday is to make sure you spend at l
east some of your time off doing things that you truly enjoy. That might sound obvious, but it can be challenging, especially at Christmas, which tends to come with family obligations, and perhaps travelling on crowded motorways or airplanes. That doesn’t mean you should forgo your commitments and traditions altogether, but try to set aside at least some of
your time off to do something you know will really make
you happy.

Spend time with family and friends

Another benefit of taking time off work is that it improves your
relationships with those close to you, not only because you get to spend time with them but because you’re able to give them your full attention. Science tells us that the more connected we are with loved ones, the healthier and happier we are.

Get plenty of rest

It is common knowledge that getting the recommended seven to nine hours sleep is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. But one in three of us don’t achieve this, with stress, computers and taking work home, often blamed. So a holiday is the perfect time to reset the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, a time to train our bodies to sleep similar amounts every night and wake up at roughly the same time each day. An even better way to rediscover our natural cycle is to get as much exposure to natural light as possible during the day, while limiting how much indoor lighting, including that from computer and television screens, we see at night.

Try out a new hobby

There's plenty of evidence that learning something new, such as a language or musical instrument, has powerful brain-boosting power. So spend some of your time off trying out a new hobby    
or skill. By taking yourself out of your usual mental patterns, you'll have stretched your mind in new ways that will create new connections in your brain, helping you to go back to work feeling more refreshed.

You deserve it

Remember that your workplace can survive without you being there. Everyone is meant to have a break from work. You’re not being lazy, you’re not neglecting your clients and commitments. Remind yourself that time off is crucial. It’s extremely important for both your physical and mental health, and essential if you want to maintain a high standard of productivity. You deserve a holiday, and should give yourself permission to completely switch off – to relax, give your brain a break, and come back to work feeling truly refreshed. 

WHY YOUR BRAIN NEEDS A HOLIDAY

Up until the advent of EEG and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the majority of scientists believed nothing productive happend within the brain whilst it was at rest. However, they soon realised this couldn’t be further from the truth. In the 1990s, Marcus Raichle of Washington University in Saint Louis demonstrated that the human brain constantly demands 20 per cent of all the energy the body produces and requires an extra five to 10 per cent of energy when someone is solving a mathematical problem or reading a book. However, he also noticed that certain regions of the brain consistently became less active when someone was concentrating on these mental challenges, but then fired up simultaneously when that person was lying quietly in the fMRI scanner. This complex circuitry has become known as our ‘default mode network’ (DMN), and reseachers have discovered it is one of around five different ‘resting state’ circuits, responsible for sight, sound, movement, attention and memory. Scientists now know that the brain is far from being inactive and unproductive during respite, but instead uses this time to replenish its stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential not only if we want to achieve our highest levels of performance, but if we are simply to form stable memories in everyday life. Rest is an opportunity for our brains to make sense of what it has recently learned, to ponder unresolved tensions and to turn its powers of reflection away from the external world towards itself. Whilst we daydream we are able to drift from one experience to another, rather than forcing our brains to focus on one particular task for hours at a time. We might replay conversations, mentally rewriting them, editing out our mistakes, all of which helps us avoid making them again in the future. We ponder the parts of our lives we are unhappy with, and search for solutions. We can delve into our childhood and then spring into our potential future; review past actions and construct    future ones, all of which is essential in the continuing development of our sense of ‘self’. Studies have also shown that the mind is often busy solving problems while we’re daydreaming, and epiphanies that seem to come out of nowhere, are often the product of unconscious mental activity.