Sunlight on water and surfer-photo by Alan Johnston for article by Dr Anne Malatt on Taking a Break

Taking a break

- Photography by Alan Johnston

We tend to think of taking a break as something that happens later…at morning tea, lunchtime, in the evenings, on the weekends, during our holidays. A break is often something we look forward to, and work is something we have to “get through” to get to the break.

But this way of living takes us out of the present moment and focusing on the future, and can lead to us living in such a way that by the time we get to the break, we are often too exhausted to enjoy it.

So is there another way of looking at taking a break?

I am a surgeon, running a solo private practice, and providing surgical and on call emergency services through the local private and public hospitals. I teach registrars, medical students and nurses, participate in continuing education programmes to maintain and upgrade my knowledge and skills, and work on several pro bono projects. My husband and I also have five children, three of whom now have children of their own. Life is busy!

Despite my best intentions, I used to always be running late for my whole life; there was never enough time in the day, there was always something to do and there was certainly not time for me to just stop and rest.

I used to feel this pressure of time so much that it would even get to the point where I would try and ignore basic bodily functions that needed taking care of, including choosing not to drink, so that I did not need to take time out to go to the bathroom.

I used to just keep going until the end of the morning, the end of the day, the end of the week…until I thought I could take a break, by which time I was too exhausted to enjoy it.

All that has changed since I learned to make myself a priority in my life, and to take care of my own body and my own needs.

We think we are too busy to take a break

We often think we are too busy to take a break. Sometimes we actually are too busy. Especially in medicine, where there is no end of people to care for and your waiting room is always full; where you cannot just get up and leave halfway through a consultation, or a session, or an operation.

But a break is not always what we think it is. You don’t have to wait until the end of the consultation the session, the operation, for the evening, the weekend, the holiday… wishing away all the moments in between.

A break can be just a moment; a moment to stop and be with ourselves, to check in and see how we are and what we need to do to take care of ourselves.

A break can be taken even with a patient in the room or on the operating table, if you feel you are starting to struggle; by taking a breath and a moment with you.

This sort of break takes practice, and it can be great to start this practice on your own. Taking a moment at the start of the day, then in between patients, in your lunch break, at the end of your working day, and in bed just before you go to sleep, to breathe gently, connect with yourself, and see how you are and if there is anything you need to do to care for yourself in that moment, can build a daily rhythm of action and rest, motion and repose.

These breaks can be a stop moment, a moment to pause and take time out from the rush and push of life, from the constant pressure we are under, to be still and feel where we are at.

They can give us a chance to go within and tune in to our bodies and how we are feeling. An opportunity to remember that we are more than what we do; that we are not just a walking talking head, but a living breathing person who needs and deserves tender loving care just as much as all the people we care for.

Taking these moment to breathe a few gentle breaths and come back to ourselves, can provide the space to see ourselves, others, life and situations more clearly.

These stop moments can also stop us from reacting to people, taking things personally, taking things on, and generally taking life too seriously.

Taking a moment to just sit, breathe and be with ourselves instead of ignoring or overriding what is going on for us, may help if we are feeling overwhelmed, confused, pressured, pushed or just plain tired, and may open the door to our awareness of what is needed next…

Taking time out creates space

I have found that since I have learned to take care of myself in this way, I feel much less stressed and pushed for time. It is as if space has opened up and there is more time in the day for me to do what is there to be done.

The more I take these moments throughout the day, the less I need to rely on actual breaks like lunchtime, the end of the day, the end of the week and holidays to rest and recharge. I am no longer waiting till later to take a break, and as a result I am more fully engaged in and enjoying each and every moment of the day and I can work long days joyfully without feeling exhausted at the end of them, and without waiting until the day is over so that I can take a break.


  1. Lovely to read these words of wisdom….I have endured nearly 2 years of potential PTS situations which have brought me to my knees…survival is my main daily aim and battling depression is my biggest lifetime challenge and I also run a solo private practice and have been guilty recently of cancelling patients because I can’t cope….endure until cure and it takes time are fine mantras but not cures.

    • It’s so true James…when we are honest enough to admit we are not coping we are offered platitudes, but no real answers…working in solo private practice can be a tough gig and it is so important that we have support of some kind, be it family, friends or fellow professionals. There are many of us “hanging on in quiet desperation” as the old song says, but the more we come out into the open and speak about it, the more potential there is for true change. And true change is simple…it just requires a complete paradigm shift in the way we see ourselves and our work…making true care for ourselves the centrepiece of our care for all others…


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