As the stress of going a mile a minute catches up with us, we're quickly realizing that taking a break is far from lazy--a plethora of science says it keeps you mentally and physically fitter. Do your breaks right, though, and they also can help you set boundaries that keep you from feeling future stress in the first place.

New environment, new tolerance

On an episode of MPR News With Kerri Miller entitled How Women Can Avoid Burnout (air date April 9, 2019), host Kerri Miller spoke with Emily and Amelia Nagoski, authors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. At the 37:15 mark, Miller accepted a call from a listener identified as Cameron from Wisconsin. Cameron described her experience hiking the Appalachian Trail.

As an unexpected side effect of being in that relaxing new environment, the caller claimed that she simply couldn't do as much. Once her body was in a place where it knew what calm felt like, and once she was psychologically more aware of how much she was doing, going back to the stress no longer was tolerable.

Without intending to, she'd set a new limit for herself.

Emily offered an intriguing comparison to describe that shift in tolerance, which can happen to anybody regardless of gender.

"It sounds to me like this was an experience where [Cameron] practiced actual real self-care of protecting [her] body out on the trail and then returned to a world of the commodified self-care that gets sold to us through capitalism. And that kind of self-care, where it's like, [masks and full of bath bombs and full of busy-ness], that kind of self-care, we talk about it as the fallout shelter you build in your basement because somebody said it's your job to protect yourself from nuclear war, instead of your she comes back to the war and is like, 'Oh wait! This is actually not acceptable to me anymore."

"[This is] like my experience of just not even noticing how much I was suffering until my body gave me this wakeup call," Amelia adds. "And like the Appalachian Trail, [...immersing] yourself in some other environment can let you know, hey, your body's been screaming for help for so long, and now you finally listen. And you start to notice, oh, I come back to the real world and all these demands, and it is not good for me."

Get away, get perspective

The point here is, sometimes you have to take a break and get out of your stressful environment to recognize just how horribly toxic it is for you. It's only then in that new space that your defenses can come down fully enough for your perspective to change.

And it's not until you have that shift in perspective that you consciously and deliberately can choose to make healthy modifications to your routine, including telling people no or not jumping at every opportunity.

So take the break. And if you take that vacation and come back with an overwhelming sense of "I can't...", or if you find yourself feeling panicked dread at the idea of trading the forest for your office, don't ignore it. Your body is sending you an impossibly clear message that new boundaries are necessary.

All you have to do is enforce them.