The thing I miss most about smoking cigarettes is the obligatory smoke break. I quit smoking over 4 years ago, and find it difficult to replace the smoke breaks of my past with an equally satisfying and replete break from my workday. Breaks are important for mental health; breaks allow us the time to pull away from our day-to-day stresses and slow down our pace.
Most people define a break as time away from the current stressor. For example, work and relationships tend to be common stressors from which people require a “break.” Although these are common stressors, I would like to note that many people take a break from work through their relationships and others may take a break from relationships by working more. To the point, a break is not defined by what it is that you are doing, but rather the context of your experience of time related to the break itself. The importance of “taking a break” is undoubtedly tied to time, but not just time as we see it on the clock. It is important that we acknowledge and experience time as relational and fluid. You can take all the 15 minute breaks you’d like; however, the break that counts is the one that shifts your perspective on time and slows down your pace, opening up space for less myopic perspectives and the nuances of your environment.
Quick example of Time as relational:
Imagine yourself at a happening party, all your friends are there and everyone is having an amazing time. The music is turned up and laughter and conversations fill the room. Now imagine you feel a like taking a break and you decide go outside for some fresh air. You walk across the street into an open field with tall grass. As you walk further from the house, the music fades into the distance, as does the laughter and conversations emanating from the party. Finally you reach a clearing in the tall grass, stop for a moment, and begin to gaze up into the crisp night sky. As you stop and listen to the night, you can hear the crickets chirping, tree frogs croaking gently, and the cicadas buzzing faintly from the trees. A cool breeze is blowing through the grass and over you as you stand quietly in the field.
Ok, now try and gauge your sense of time as you make the walk outside and into the tall grassy field. Did time seem to speed up or slow down? The relationship you have with time standing out in the field at night is much different than the experience of time of those people still attending the party. Many people describe time slowing down when they are relaxed and without stress. Time is inescapable and we are always in a relationship with time; however, time is also fluid, relational, and without boundaries. We all experience time in relation to our surroundings, and the people or objects we interact with. In the example of the break from the party, time was relative and related to the context of the environment. Time at the party was different than time standing in the grassy field. Whether time sped up or slowed down in your imagination of being at the party is less important than whether or not it slowed down on your break. Of utmost importance is being aware of your experience of time during the break and making sure you are truly getting a break. Some people might find themselves more relaxed at a party surrounded by other people rather than standing alone in a field in the middle of the night (spooky!).
In short, we exist in time and can use this fact to our advantage if we become aware of its relational and fluid quality. I used to always say, the best thing about being a smoker was that while all the other non-smokers were waiting for a train or bus, I was not waiting at all, I was simply smoking a cigarette and enjoying the time.
Written By: Dr. Jason LaHood
To learn more about time and how we perceive it, you should click here