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How to rest your brain (and why you need a holiday!)

There are many ways to rest your brain and heading on holiday could play a part in giving your brain a break

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 Dan Murray-Serter
Dan Murray-Serter
Co-Founder
June 05, 2022
6 min read

Wondering how to rest your brain? Here's how to give your brain a break at home, but why travelling to somewhere new might be the ultimate solution.

Article breakdown

Does your brain ever get rest?

No, not really. Whether you're working, sleeping, or settled on the couch tucking into a bag of chips, your brain is grinding away. Even when you're asleep, the brain is still active.

That said, your mind is in a much happier and restful place when you're relaxed, calm, and deeply engaged in something, than when you're flustered and overwhelmed. Hence, it is possible to give your brain some sort of break.

How long does your brain need to rest?

It's common in today's hustle culture to wear busyness like a badge of honour, competing for the most amount of hours worked or the least amount of hours slept. Neither of these things are smart and are likely to lead to chronic stress and burnout.

Studies show that you need 7 to 8 hours of sleep for better brain health and to work at your best. It's also been found that short bursts of concentration, with small breaks, are the best way to keep your brain happy and on-task. For example, the Pomodoro technique splits tasks into 25 minutes of focus time, with 5 - 10 minute breaks.

How to rest your brain

Here are 5 ways to give your brain a break at home.

1. Get enough sleep

As a general rule, the NHS recommends roughly eight hours of high-quality sleep a night. The more deep sleep you get, the more refreshed you’ll feel, as slow and steady brain activity are optimal for the function of the glymphatic system (the brain’s unique process of getting rid of waste).

2. Practice mindfulness

A common misconception is that mindfulness is about stopping thoughts (which we know is impossible!). Instead, it’s simply about being present. Practising mindfulness can reduce stress levels and allow your mind to unwind.

3. Learn a new skill

Although it might not seem like a brain-break, learning a new skill can combat the dreaded feeling of being stuck in a rut or unsatisfying routine. It can also improve your brain's neuroplasticity.

4. Walk every day

Walking a little bit every day acts as a self-repair mechanism for the brain and body, clearing your mind and leaving you feeling fresh and revitalized. And an added bonus: it doesn't have to be any extra effort!

5. Journal

When your brain is going at a hundred miles an hour, it can be useful to put your thoughts on paper. Our science-backed gratitude journal is based on our ten pillars of braincare to improve your well-being.

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Holidays: the ultimate brain-break

Going on holiday holds many benefits. It gives you a break from the norm, the chance to tuck in to new food, try new experiences, sleep in, switch off from work, top up your tan, and maybe even dust off your seldom-used language skills. But amongst all that, what effect does going on holiday have on your brain? Can it improve your mental health? And even increase neuroplasticity?

There’s growing evidence that yes, it can do all those things. Your brain really does need a break. Science says so.

How travel increases neuroplasticity

According to Heights Chief Science Officer, Dr Tara Swart, travelling throughout your life is one of the best ways to encourage neuroplasticity —the brain’s ability to grow and adapt as we age. The act of stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the unfamiliar keeps neurons firing in new ways, and can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

In Dr Tara’s Work In interview she said;

‘There's so much that you can do to keep your brain flexible and to keep it learning, growing, and changing. If you learn a language, or if you travel… these are classic examples of things that are attention-intense enough to physically change your brain. For some people it might be cooking, or it might be coding. It's (the act of) pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and having to make such an effort, that it actually builds up new neural pathways in your brain.’

How travel can help mental health

In this report published by Expedia, over 81% of people said they took a holiday for mental wellness, and 91% use holidays as a way to help with stress and anxiety. 

Just the act of having a holiday booked to look forward to can help you to have a better sense of well-being, and be more positive about your life in general.

And, when people get back, the benefits of a mental health holiday continue as their happiness levels stay higher than usual for up to a month afterwards. (So, if you think about it, your holiday high encompasses the preamble, the time during, and the aftermath—so booking your next holiday a month after you get back should mean you can ride that wave all year!)

Regular holidays can also help with your wider mental health. In this study, women who went on holiday twice a year over five years were less likely to suffer from tension, depression, or fatigue, and were more satisfied with their marriages.

How travel can impact personality

The benefits of taking a holiday can even extend into what kind of person you are. In this study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, university students over the course of a year were studied to see what effect travelling had on their personalities. At the end of the year, the “big five” personality traits; extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and emotional stability were all higher in those who had spent time abroad.

The researchers attributed this to increased social networks and interactions as a result of travel.

To summarise

Admittedly, holidays aren't always accessible and not everybody can hop on a plane as soon as they start to wonder about how to rest your brain.

The main thing to consider here is that the benefits of travel on the brain come from the different experiences it offersSo while it may not be a holiday as you'd like, but as long as you’re looking forward to something, it’s a break from the norm, and you try new things—your brain will still get all the benefits.

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