I’ve been having a spot of down time today. I got up early, had breakfast and put in a solid few hours of grind – despite it being the weekend and I’d rather have been sat in the garden sipping coffee and reading – and this got me thinking about the importance of leisure time. And specifically taking enough breaks at work.

You see, one of my favourite things to do to unwind in spend time in the forest and woodlands. I don’t live by the coast so, lovely as it would be the beach is out of the question. So the forest is my getaway. There are no cars. No houses. Virtually no phone signal even.

It doesn’t even particularly matter what the activity is. It can be running, walking or just sitting there and ‘bathing’ in the forest. The idea of forest bathing emerged from Japan recently as a way to relax and has seen a huge rise in popularity. And when it comes to health and wellbeing, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to what Japan is up to!

So anyway, that’s my thing. You might have your own thing. Swimming, reading, jogging. Maybe doing sudoku.

The problem is though, our lives are now hectic, so fraught with stress and events that less and less to do we properly switch off and allow ourselves a bit of time completely free of distraction and alarm.

Taking breaks at work

The health benefits of taking time out to relax are clear. But when you work a solid 8-9 hour day how many of us can honestly say we take enough time out of our day to properly relax, if at all?

I suspect a great many of the average workers in the UK get the bare minimum breaks allowed to them by law. And even then, is it truly relaxing break time, or are you just wolfing down a sandwich at your desk while checking your phone?

For many people, particularly those on a production line or working in a high-intensity environment, there isn’t much give on this matter. The buzzer goes, signalling the start of your lunch hour, and to keep the wheels turning you need to go and clock back on immediately when your hour is up. I get that.

But the irony is, these might be some of the most stressful jobs where taking breaks at work is even more important.

I was reading an article recently where a study had shown the benefits of taking a proper relaxing walk during a lunch break, and getting away from the office altogether, had enormous health benefits. The idea I think is to walk without purpose, not to get anywhere, just to talk. And you should find your mind wandering, forgetting you’re actually at work at all.

Maybe that could involve listening to some music, a podcast or maybe just taking in the sights and sounds of the park, or better still, an even more secluded woodland.

So when you return to work an hour or so later, your mind had had the opportunity to properly detach itself from the tasks at hand, and you would be properly invigorated and ready to attack the remainder of the day.

But I just can’t do it. They need me at the office…

Well, this is sadly all too common. So many of us in Britain are are entrenched in working patterns that drive us to the brink of exhaustion, where we forget (or aren’t able) to take any time for ourselves. Where we constantly live to work, rather than work to live.

That’s my main motivation for this blog really. To see if I can explore different ways of working with more freedom, more leisure time and the ability to take more breaks at work so your mind stands a chance of processing all the things thrown at it during the working day.

If you’re not able to move into a freelance profession just yet that’s fine. It’s not an easy process, particularly if all your skills and experience is in the ordinary 9-5 working sector.

But why not take a few of the freelance mantras and see if you can build them into your current working day? Why not resolve yourself to take proper breaks at work, not just the bare minimum, and see what effect this has on your health and mindset?

Even if you don’t work in a particularly exciting area, I bet most people can find somewhere to take a proper, relaxing mindful walk whether that’s through your town, the park or just around the block. It’s still exercise and it’s still got the ability to reset you for the afternoon ahead.

Let’s change our mindset on breaks

I’m convinced there’s a cultural barricade in front of our lack of relaxation time in the UK. We seem to have a culture of thinking it’s macho to ‘work through’ the day and somehow a sign of ‘weakness’ to want to take a proper hours break and switch off totally from work.

That’s just nonsense.

Take a look around us. The Japanese I spoke about earlier? They’re not the only ones who know how to relax. What about the Italians? I can’t put my precise finger on their working patterns but, from what I can gather, every Italian I’ve ever met seems to constantly be either on their way to or from the beach, or on their way to buy coffee. They just get it. The idea that switching off isn’t weakness, but a great idea for your physical and mental health.

Italian workers take a great many more holidays than we Brits too, and spend an enormous amount of time lounging on the beach (in ill fitting swimwear). They live the good life. La Dolce Vita.

And what do these two countries have in common? Higher life expectancy than Britain.

We need regular breaks. Breaks at work. Breaks from work. Breaks from looking at our phone or computer screen. The health benefits are beyond doubt.

So whether that’s changing your work habits to squeeze in some proper rest, or changing your career entirely to something that offers more leisure time, it’s really something worth aiming for.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been typing for a while now and I really must got and put the kettle on.