I’m not sure what comes to your mind when you hear “break time,” but the word harbors a treasure of memories for me. My father was—still is, actually—a brick mason, and my summers spent with him on construction sites bore a very distinct and welcome rhythm: at 10 am, we took a break. On extremely hot days, we took another at 3 pm. Both included watermelons and were always in addition to lunch. To this day, “break time” is one of my favorite phrases to hear, rivalling the best dactylic hexameter Homer ever composed. The lasting benefit for me, however, was an example of time set apart from work’s rigor. Taking a break after reaching exhaustion isn’t a sustainable practice.

I am passing on to you an article from May 17, 2018 called “Better Work-Life Balance Tips for Teachers.” You can access the full article by clicking here. It’s a call to making practical changes to our work schedules that are flexible enough for every personality to apply, even if you’re an INFJ like myself. The list includes making friends, celebrating accomplishments, and using reflective writing. Here’s what the researchers wrote about “taking a break”:

The operative word in the phrase “lunch break” is “break.” Getting away from the classroom, even if it’s just for a few minutes, can help you be more creative. Taking a walk around the block has been shown to boost your productivity, and taking a walk in nature is even better. Being in nature is the most effective way to relax your brain and refresh your senses, so head to the nearest park if possible.

My favorite break happens during “lunch” at the Johnson Silcox Gynmasium. Four times a week, I make my way to the gym, store my stuff in the locker room, and run to the South Battery or use the fitness area. Physical exertion always makes me feel better. Call it a conditioned response from childhood or an endorphin buzz, but after a 30’ workout and a quick shower (the gym provide showers and towels), I’m ready to confront the rest of the day with renewed mental and physical energy.

There is a long tradition of self-care that’s at the heart of this issue. Plato is one of the earliest writers to flesh it out. Birthed in a democratic context as a conversation between Socrates and the notorious Alcibiades, “care of the self” (ἐπιμέλεσθαι ἑαυτοῦ) is essentially this: Alcibiades must care for himself before he can properly care for Athens as a civil servant. It’s a principle that aims to maximize one’s intellectual, spiritual, and physical capacities not as an end per se but as a means to greater engagement with and service to others.

When we consider the “break” within the self-care tradition, we can see that a well-chosen break has the ability to benefit our families because we are effectively caring for ourselves. If I work so fervently in the office or classroom that I am exhausted when I get home, how can I adequately engage with or serve my family, be it a pet, partner, or children? It’s imperative that we find meaningful “breaks” at work so that we can meaningfully participate at home.

For further reading, see the following:

  • Plato’s Alcibiades I.
  • Foucault, M. 2005. The Hermeneutics of the Subject. NY: Picador. Not for the faint of heart, this text is one of the best attempts to paint in broad strokes the “care of the self” within the ancient context. The book is comprised of Foucault’s lectures given in the Spring Semester of 1982 at the Collége de France and are among the final lectures he gave before his death in 1984.
  • Hadot, P., 1995. Reflections on the Idea of the “Cultivation of the Self”. Philosophy as a Way of Life210, pp.261-70. A thoughtful response by Pierre Hadot to his friend and colleague Michel Foucault.
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