Guilt of Breaks


Today, I want to talk about something that I often struggle with: taking a break.

Well, I am by nature a bit lazy. But when it comes to academia and research, I am probably not because I like it a lot. Because I like it a lot, I tend to overwork (just like most other people in the field). I am here today to talk about one major consequence that results from this overworking habit: inability to relax and the sense of guilt.

You all probably know and experienced that when something becomes a habit, your body and mind start craving for it at the intervals in which you repeat that habitual behavior. Let’s say, if you have been exercising three times a week for a while, your body will want it at those intervals. Your muscles will get tense, you will get uneasy etc. Just like that, when work becomes a habit, your body and mind wants it. They start showing strange behaviors.

With that background, now imagine working every day, which means that work becomes a habit repeated every day. The result is that the mind starts craving it every day.

So, now with that background, imagine not working for several weeks, which means that you ignore that craving for an extended period of time (extended based on the frequency of the habit).

This is hard. That is why I tend to get back to work earlier than I plan all the time. That is also why I feel guilty when I don’t work for a while (as if I am not giving the food my mind desires).

For example, a common (sad) joke about summer breaks within the academic community goes like the following: Summers are guilt times for academics. We feel guilty if we spend time with family and friends and don’t work and because we always have things to do research-wise (In fact, we are always told to ‘make the most of the summer’, which means we should study and get things done because during school years we have classes and stuff). If we decide to work rather than spending time with family and friends, then we feel guilty just because of that decision. So, no matter what we choose, we are bound to feel guilty in summers.

Summer schools of academic fields also reflect this: they are a way of taking a break but also still do work.

I definitely do like working, which is why I am still in academia. No complaints about that. But I also don’t want to feel guilty when I take a break because that is very much not in line with human nature. So, here is my question for you:

I talked about the case in academia because that is what I know best. However, I also know that this is probably a generalized state in many jobs in our age. Do you experience guilt as such in your job as well? If not, how do you manage to resist the pressure and don’t feel guilty? Any tips? Is there a way to get around this requirement in modern life?


42 thoughts on “Guilt of Breaks

  1. When I was still a corporate guy and IT industry can be tough – my mantra was : One long weekend every quarter and one long break every year. Other wise we would go crazy 😜
    And for many years now – whole of my life is One Big Break. Living in gratitude 🙏

      1. All the best Betul. I took the decision to quit the rat race on 9th October 1998. And my dreams became my reality.

  2. No such thing as a break in motherhood. Give me research any day!
    I have to go for walks. Leave. I just cannot be around anyone some days.

  3. Betul, I think it is about creating a balance in life. We raised our kids this way. To keep the balance and do well while doing the work but also remember to do well and take care of yourself, rest, social time with others, entertainment times etc. when we find the balance…that is when we know there is a time for each activity and that’s when we focus on each. So, no need to feel bad about not doing something else. All are important. ☀️💚☀️

    1. Thanks! I am trying to do different things, relaxing as well. So it is not like I am always working. But I think I most often have the guilt. I am waiting for the time that will go away😊

  4. Hey….am very previlaged am always enjoying this…my best blog posts in my life ….but am getting a challenge reading online am asking if you have pdfs of these stories so that I can keep them in mylibrary thamks.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  5. I did a PO blog on this very subject several weeks ago and concluded that we are generally very good at being hard on ourselves but less skilled at treating ourselves with kindness and forgiveness. We need to work on feeling less guilty when we are “wasting time.” Notice how judgmental the phrase “wasting time” is? What we often mean when we say we are “wasting” time is that we are simply sitting and recharging, that we are stepping away from the sound and fury for a time. Human beings need quietness, inactivity, and the space to simply “be” Our national cultures are good at teaching us how to “do” but less adept at teaching us how to “be.”

    1. Well-said! Yes, this is all so true and it is very much ingrained in our cultures, hence in us. That is why it comes out as such a powerful feeling.

  6. This is exactly how I am. At least im not alone. I love it though. Gives me a great feeling of achievement in life. It’s all a great balancing act. Im finding to take my breaks when I need them and it’s wonderful. Some guilt at times, but if I schedule the breaks (2 weeks every few months of doing zero work) then it’s scheduled and part of my agenda. That helps immensely with taking that break and enjoying it. Im always stir crazy the first day then better after that 🙂

    1. That is a good idea! I used to do something similar as well but I think I find it a bit harder to do when things are crazier than usual. But I think this strategy definitely helps.

  7. Guilt is like a warning bell. Something is wrong. In this case, our societal norms of perfection in all things don’t allow you to be your genuine self with flaws and all. Enjoy your work and enjoy your family and when the guilt messages creep in call them what they are: bullshit messages from a confused society.

    That’s how I let go of mine.

  8. I like this topic. Guilt, just generally, is the toughest emotion to shave off. I think it all starts with self compassion. Whether you’re guilty about taking breaks or anything else

  9. I share this guilt too. But I think I am always constantly reminded of a very true fact: that we are not machines. We can only perform well when we are well rested, and overworking can lead to low performance. In least I found that this is the case with me. You’ve got to enjoy life in work and out of work to make the most on both sides!

  10. It depends SO much on what I’m doing, and what my body says. Yes, I feel guilty – ashamed even – if I’m in the middle of a task and I start to shake from hunger. How dare my body (with it’s bonus stores of energy) do this to me? I don’t like taking breaks when I’m doing something – but there are times when I have to. Usually this is to assess the next steps in the event. Packing a room cannot often be done in one fell swoop – there’s got to be consideration of what goes into which boxes, how heavy that makes the boxes, are there breakables in there, etc. I get very frustrated when I’m in the middle of cleaning or cooking and have to take a break because the phone rings or my body says that it’s done for that time.

    I think – perhaps – I’m getting better at listening to my body and considering why a break is important. Sometimes stepping away from a project or an idea brings new perspective to things. For academics, taking time out of the academic world, interacting with friends, family, or even mindless relaxation, will refuel the brain to return to it’s desired state of activity.

    1. Our bodies actually tell us when we should take a break but we do not listen. It becomes better when we start to listen. Taking a break when needed will definitely refuel. It is very much needed.

  11. I hear you: taking a break, or deciding to take one, is really hard. Also, sometimes I feel that I’m working even when I’m officially off.

  12. There are people I know well who do not look forward to weekends for the reason you state. They just cannot turn off due to their passion for work. If you want the downtime then go for it. If you don’t – may I ask why force it upon yourself. There are plenty of work opportunities (perhaps in a different country where it is winter and not summer 🙂

  13. Yeah! When we like working on something and take a break, we do feel guilty. I think it happens with everyone, regardless of profession. But we should not be guilty to have some time for ourselves. After all, we are working to have a good life. But we only work and forget to live life.

  14. I always feel guilty when it comes to taking a break! As a busy mom of two, it feels like I don’t have enough me’s to take care of everyone’s needs.
    There’s always something left to do. I don’t know if I have any sound advice but I realize that my mind and body need a break. I’m much more effective, and happier, if I’m rested up. It’s so much easier said than done. hmmmm, now that I think about your question. Have you considered working a few hours a day and then taking a break? You may have less guilt feelings.
    Thank you for posing this question. I can relate. When I was in academia, I couldn’t stop even when I wanted to. It was a lot of pressure and I felt unfocused.
    It’s great that you enjoy the research and work!! Keep going but take a break to refresh yourself.

      1. Guilt is a strong motivator. Sometimes it makes you work more than you want! I hope you take the time to refresh…it’s probably not lost time. You can come up with new and creative ideas while you take a break.
        Have a great Sunday!

  15. This hit home! I couldn’t relate more – I work in Finance. Its long hours and intense but I find it fascinating. So I often feel guilt leaving the office knowing very well I have enough time to complete the tasks I need the following day. I’m also studying for professional exams – some Saturdays I know I’ve put in a solid 6 hours of study but I feel guilt at the end of the day when I’m having a glass of wine and watching TV or spending time with my husband. What’s helped is keeping a log of my ‘progress’ or a proof of my hard work – when the guilt hits, I look back at the log and feel a little satisfied that I’ve done what needs to. It’s a process but I’m making small steps of progress 🙂

    1. I know how you feel and it is surprising that it is so common while it should not be. I like your strategy too and it is something that I try to do at times as well. It works bit by bit but we need to be consistent so it will show its real effect in time.

  16. I have heard of breaks, but mostly my life is a shift from one type of work to another. Some are more enjoyable (blogging, writing, seeing clients in my part-time business) and some are less so (that pesky full-time job, housework). But it is just a continual shift of work. There is no break.

    1. Maybe something that could help is to recategorize some activities. For example, try seeing blogging as something you do to take a break rather than as another type of work. What do you think?

  17. This is why it is hard to negotiate schedules with myself. It’s hard to accept the nice things about the schedules. Like breaks.

  18. There are only two instances during which we should feel guilty:
    1- When our action affect others negatively
    2- When we ignore/pass on opportunities to affect others positively.

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