You Need a Break. But From What, Exactly?

A taxonomy of tiredness and what to do about it.

Deepti Kannapan


Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

The feeling of needing a break can be visceral and unmistakable. Progress grinds to a halt, you’re physically uncomfortable, and frustration is rising.

At some point, even the most stubborn must admit there’s no more blood to be pulled from this stone and step away from their task.

But now what?

Ideally, we’d do something wholesome and restorative.

When I’m in this state, I can tell I’ve overdone something, but it’s not immediately clear what. Whatever it is, I need a break from it.

Over time, I’ve become a connoisseur of tiredness. I started to notice subtle flavor differences among the types, and what I’ve overdone to suffer from them.

Aside from the well-known ones (overexerting physically or mentally, holding one position for too long, eye strain, and Zoom fatigue) here are the most common types observed:

Learning or consuming information

This is what happens when I’ve been moving seamlessly from media to media all day. Reading things for work, reading emails, listening to podcasts, reading blogs and the news, watching videos — some of it useful, some of it fluff, but it only goes one way: in.

After a while, a specific sort of tension starts building up. I don’t know how to describe it, except that it’s like the feeling you get when you’re reaching for a word and it’s on the tip of your tongue, and you just can’t give up on finding it.

Only, it’s happening in parallel, as if you had many tips of your tongue with words on them, and you were reaching for them all at once.

Very unpleasant. And buzzy and anxious.

What I’ve found is that I need to a) shut all the inputs off for a moment and b) write down my thoughts about what I’ve consumed so far.

I think it’s because a part of me wants to respond or think about all the information I’ve taken in, but I’m not giving it a chance to process it before I jam some more in. So, giving my brain some time to catch up and say its piece is a relief.



Deepti Kannapan

Painter, occasional cartoonist, aerospace engineer. Writes about sustainable technology, creativity, and journaling.