When starting a job at a pub, at the age of twenty one, I was asked if I smoke. Unusual question, I thought. "No, I don't smoke" I answered confused. Why should it matter anyway?!
"Oh good, then you won't have to take smoking breaks." Came the reply. On 13 hour shifts with no breaks, I soon changed my mind. I saw my collegues pop out for five minutes every couple of hours. "I smoke now" I told them. Those few puffs on a night out, when I'd had a few too many spurred me on. I was a smoker. (Please, god, the universe, whoever is in charge don't let my family read this!! She says at nearly 28 years old.)
Of course I knew that I was entitled to some kind of break - in the UK employers must allow a minimum of 20 minutes break if you work for more than 6 hours in a day. I knew this, yet for some reason I didn't feel like I could bring it up. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as is age. I was young and desperately in need of the job.
I smoked purely because it meant I'd get a restbite from the never ending hard work that a pub job brings. It looks easy, from the outside, but it's relentless. I take my hat off to anyone that works behind a bar or in retail, you are absolute troopers! In under a year, I had quit. I didn't like the taste, I didn't like the smell on my hands, my clothes or in my hair and I really didn't like the thought of what it could be doing to my body.
I found I'd get more stressed and uptight in situations, especially when I was working hard. I also found that I'd still go outside with the smokers on a night out, even though I no longer smoked - the best conversations happen in the smoking area. I still pop outside with the smokers at work. Just because I don't smoke, doesn't mean I don't deserve a five minute break outside for some fresh air. So with the introduction over, having bared all, let's get on with the non smokers guide to smoking breaks.
1. Know you deserve a break.
Whether you work in an office or from home, or even outside - you deserve a break. Breaks are scientifically proven to increase concentration and focus. They do amazing things for general wellbeing and as humans we really do need them. According to health and safety regulations, if you work at a computer, a 5-10 minute break should be taken every hour and is much better than taking a 20 minute break after 3-4 hours.
2. Get Outside
Have you ever been advised to "go out and get some fresh air" by a Grandparent or elderly family member? It's a brilliant remedy for so many ailments. Being outdoors is a fantastic stress reliever, it increases creativity and boosts focus. Fresh air has been scientifically proven to help with mental health issues and it generally gives us a bit of a wake up. Whilst I'm sure you'll be inclined to take that break indoors in the warm, pop a coat and scarf on and breathe in all of the goodness. If you're on the top floor of a building and can't get outside, open a window and sit as close as you can, not too close though! Be careful!!
3. Tea, Coffee or a Snack.
Give yourself something to do. It's going to feel strange at first if you're not used to breaks, so having a cup of something to sip on or a breakfast bar to munch on will help you to adjust and give you something to "do" with your hands. Try this Matcha Hot Chocolate for an added focus kick!
This is the big one. If you take anything away from this post, please let it be this. It's the one thing I learned is my biggest tension reliever. Think for a moment about how smokers breathe when they smoke. They suck in air through their mouths, hold it and then fully blow out through their mouth slowly, with partially parted lips. I want you to try this.
- Breathe in through your mouth for the count of 6.
- Hold the breath for the count of 3-4 seconds.
- Breathe out slowly throught your mouth, with partially parted lips until your lungs are empty.
- Breathe normally for a breath or two and then repeat.
You can alter the timing, I now breathe in for a lot longer and hold for a lot longer. Find what feels right for you. Really take note of how it makes you feel. Be mindful of the tension easing away, your shoulders dropping and that heady feeling entering your mind.
5. Take the full break.
If you've said you're going to have a five minute break, take the full five minutes. I can guarantee that after three minutes, you'll most likely be raring to go with an idea or new found enthusiasm for something you're working on. It can wait for another two minutes. You can give yourself that extra two minutes.
6. Be Consistent.
Keep it up. We often start things like this but when the going gets tough we let it slip. It takes just over two months to form a new habit, so you need to be on top of it at first. It's worth it though, so very worth it.
7. No Mobiles or Work.
It's all about mindfulness and I'm afraid that screen or paperwork you thought you could take outside with you most certainly isn't about mindfulness. The world isn't going to end in the next five minutes. It will do you the world of good to be screen free for a short time, I promise.
I'd love to know if you take breaks during your day and how often you take them. It's something I think we should be talking about more and encouraging. In an age where we are all striving for success in work work work mode, breaks are needed more so now than ever before.