02 Recharge

The importance of me-time

Taking breaks during the day is essential for maintaining your physical and mental health. We asked a psychiatrist for her best advice on winding down.


With the constant demands of our fast-paced lives, it’s easy to forget to take a moment for ourselves. To many of us, a timeout can almost feel like an evasion, when we should be spending our time doing something useful.  


But as it turns out, taking a break could be one of the most effective ways of staying healthy and getting more done. First, let’s try to understand why we get stressed in the first place, and why it has such a negative impact on us. 


Fight or flight 

To understand this, we need to go back to the days when humans lived as hunters and gatherers. Our brains haven’t evolved very much since then. Stress is a natural reaction to situations that are perceived as challenging or threatening and puts our bodies into a “fight or flight”-mode, says Kari-Elise Frøystad Veddegjærde, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Aalesund hospital.


In this state, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. In the right doses, they can make us more attentive. But if we live with high stress over long periods, things start to take a negative turn.


A heightened level of stress hormones over time is toxic to parts of the brain, especially the hippocampus. We find it harder to concentrate, our memory deteriorates, and many experience physical symptoms like palpitations, shallow breathing, sore muscles, back and shoulders, says Veddegjærde.


This heightens the risk of diseases like heart disorders and diabetes. In addition to the physical effects, stress can also take a toll on our mental well-being. It can cause a lack of concentration and poor decision making, leading to problems at work or school. It can also lead to feelings of irritability, sadness, and hopelessness.


Taking breaks during the day is essential for maintaining both physical and mental health, says Kari-Elise Frøystad Veddegjærde, senior consultant psychiatrist at Aalesund hospital.

Stay active


Taking breaks during the day is essential for maintaining both physical and mental health. Timeouts – whether they are spent resting or in activity – can increase productivity, improve our mood, and reduce stress. Veddegjærdes favourite countermeasure against stress is a workout, or a hike in natural surroundings.


Research shows significantly lower levels of stress hormones in the body after as little as 20 minutes of medium intensity activity. The “magical formula” seems to be around 45 minutes three times a week, within 60-80 per cent of your max pulse. But twenty minutes five times a week works nearly as well.


The power nap


Another effective way to recharge during the day is to take a power nap. Power naps, or short naps, have been shown to improve cognitive function, and overall well-being. These quick breaks can also help to reduce fatigue and increase energy levels, allowing us to better tackle the tasks at hand. A recent meta study from 2021, collating findings from 11 studies and 381 participants, showed that cognitive performance improved after a nap. This especially affected the alertness of the subjects. The sleep duration varied between 15 and 90 minutes.


I’ve held lectures for company executives where I urge them to let their employees sleep for 20 minutes around 2 PM. It is normally met with a smile and a shrug, but I’m one hundred per cent serious. And if that’s not possible, there is a lot to be gained by a short afternoon nap. Many of us know the “key drop” sleep, where you simply sit back with a key or a pen in your hand, and sleep until the hand relaxes and you drop the keys. But remember not to sleep too late in the day, as it might affect your night sleep, says Veddegjærde. 


The power nap gives the mind time to reset and gives you a higher level of concentration for the following two hours. Overall, sleep is one of the most important factors influencing our health, she says.


Constant lack of sleep is associated with a higher risk of depression, infectious diseases, Alzheimer, anxiety and even cancer.

Let the screen rest


If anyone still thinks that taking fifteen minutes scrolling through social media or news apps equals relaxation, think again. 


The smartphone supplies our brain with small, easily accessible doses of dopamine all the time. It becomes an addiction. It is the opposite of rest. But the good news is, this addiction is reversible. It is never too late in life for the brain to generate new brain cells, but in order to do that, it needs a combination of rest and activity. The smartphone makes us passive recipients, Veddegjærde says. 


Give each other space 

Overall, managing stress is crucial for maintaining both physical and mental health. By taking care of ourselves, we can improve our overall well-being and quality of life, Veddegjærde says. But how can we find the time? 


Incorporating exercise and rest in our schedule might feel demanding, even impossible at first, but it is all about building new habits. I like to compare it to a highway in the brain. We are used to taking the easiest route, but it might not be the route that gets us where we really want to go. So, we must venture into new terrain often enough to clear a path, and in time that becomes our new highway.


Another reason why we neglect ourselves is that we often view taking a break as “wasting time”, when in reality, it can increase our productivity and effectiveness. We may even feel guilty or selfish for taking time for ourselves, when there is always something else that needs to be done. However, it’s important to remember that taking care of ourselves is not a luxury, but a necessity.


Partners and families need to give each other space and time to take that nap or workout. It’s the best medicine there is, Kari-Elise Veddegjærde says.

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