Reduce stress at work: avoiding solo practitioner syndrome with recess breaks

Have you heard about the “Solo Practitioner Syndrome” that can strike when least expected? Symptoms start with delusions about unreturned phone calls and e-mails. Eventually a cloud of stress looms over the lone professional working alone in an office or at home. Relax! Practice a few healthy distraction techniques (take recess!) during your day and step away from the role of ship’s captain and crew for a few minutes. CAUTION: If you do not take breaks, you might go nuts.

I call it recess for adults. Here is an example of afternoon cat recess at my home office.

Call it nutty but as a pet owner, I actively encourage balance in my cat’s life. Exercise and social needs of animals should balance with nutrition and general health concerns. When I work from home, it is the cat and me. Her name is MJ Catface (Yes that is a Facebook page hyperlink) and she is a 2-year-old Bombay (her breed is intelligent and a little clingy). Like clockwork, she wakes from a daily nap around 3:30 pm and wants to socialize and play for a half hour before going down again for another nap. I have learned to incorporate the cat’s needs into my own balanced workday.

Adults Need Recess Too

As kids we took breaks to exercise our bodies and engage others. Adults should go back to taking recess breaks and clear their minds.

Mid-afternoon is a good time to step away from your desk and stretch before pushing through the late afternoon “get it done” rush. When MJ Catface jumps on my desk mid-afternoon, I have two choices: (1) engage her need to play; or (2) deal with her biting my phone cord, kicking pens off the desk, chewing papers, and causing general destruction to my workspace. I’ve learned to take a “cat break” and socialize through playing with toys or the more exiting impromptu dance party that get’s MJ all excited (she knows she’s going to get a T – R – E – A – T). After a few minutes, she picks a new afternoon sleeping spot and chills out so I can finish the tasks on my daily agenda.

I don’t have a pet at work, am I screwed?

What if you don’t have a pet where you work? Resist the urge to throw in the towel and jump out the window – there are other options! While it may sound elementary, it makes sense to take a break to interact with others during your adult recess. Call Mom. Call Dad. Call and talk to anyone, but make sure it has nothing to do with your current workday. I rarely talk to my cat about work because she does not care!

Taking a breath and stepping away from work is encouraged and even mandated by several companies with mandatory lunch policies. When I was a lad, I worked at a bank that made me take lunch and go get some mid-day exercise. At the time, I would have preferred to plow through the noon hour and get more work done so I could leave earlier and get the jump on traffic. Was my mentality wrong and was I hitting invisible walls?

When we get involved in work and do not take breaks, we lose the benefit of pausing to reflect. If you give yourself a break, even for 10 minutes, you can re-approach your work by first recalling a summary of your progress and where you need to go with work.

Don’t over exercise your brain – it needs a break!

Think of your brain as a muscle that needs a break every so often. Take a short recess during the workday and step away from your desk, call someone, run around the building, or catch the day’s news. When you think about your workday as a series of activities and events, you are less likely to experience solo practitioner syndrome.

Do you take recess breaks at work? What do you do to step away for a few?

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