September 29 is National Coffee Day, but taking into account the acute changes to most of our daily lives that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, the activities we choose to celebrate Day and reflections we make given a focus on the world’s most popular pick-me-up may serve as a guide to what the ‘new normal’ will look like…
For the vast majority of folks used to working outside the home for at least 8 hours a day, at least 5 days a week, ‘Coffee Break’ is perhaps the single experience to which they can all relate. It’s been a universal social leveler among workers across the developed world since it became popular following the Second World War.
Originally exported from Scandinavia to the rest of the world in the late 19th Century, the mid-morning and mid-afternoon break started as an informal observance but now constitutes an important component of virtually all collective bargaining agreements and an important social component of most workers’ daily routines.
During the War (see: Wartime Coffee Ad, left, even before the term ‘Coffee Break’ was officially coined), government efficiency experts realized that providing short morning and afternoon breaks could help workers deal better psychologically and boost productivity at war production plants. After the War, in 1952, the Pan American Coffee Bureau promoted the idea of the Coffee Break with an ad campaign that urged consumers to, “Give yourself a Coffee-Break — and Get What Coffee Gives to You!”
What it gives you
“What it gives you”, of course, is a shot of Caffeine that many Coffee habituées have come to rely on to get through their day. But it’s also a chance to socialize with their fellow employees and give their brains a refreshing change of pace. They also get a chance to walk around, and see some different scenery. (Okay. The Break Room, but different, nevertheless.)
What you miss working from home
Unless you plan ahead to confab with workmates at a given time by phone or Skype, you’ll miss the chance to socialize. And your perception of the passage of time may start to drift without a fixed clock reference for that change of pace. As your routine becomes less and less fixed, you’re bound to become grumpy and frustrated.
Another result is, without a fixed break, you’ll probably tend to work longer at a stretch (i.e.- until the job is done, whatever it may be) – a practice psychologists say will see your work suffer in quality and accuracy.
And don’t forget: you’ll miss that hit of Caffeine, which might otherwise help you get through a marathon screen session, should one evolve.
On the other hand…
Coffee ‘fiends’, as my late Dad used to call some of his co-workers, might tend to take more Coffee Breaks and drink more of their beloved beverage of choice, making some of them jumpy, impatient and simply harder to deal with. In a work-from-home arrangement, that could result in absent-mindedness, terse or ugly answers to your e-mails or texts, or rushed and distracted work full of mistakes or omissions.
Following logically on that picture, psychologists conclude that folks who drink too much Coffee will take more breaks to top up their cups and allow themselves more ‘walking around’ time to try to alleviate frayed nerves.
And… If you over-caffeinate during the day, you may carry over the ugly frame of mind such activity may trigger and – more importantly – negatively impact your sleep. Which, in turn may lead you to drinking even more Coffee the next day. Not to mention that if feelings of agitation and impatience carry over into the evening, you might come to rely on a soothing Alcoholic drink (or two, or three) to help you gear down for your much-needed night’s rest.
So… Too much Coffee can easily be worse for you than too little.
“Moderation in all things – including moderation,” the immortal Julia Child once counseled, in reference to food and drink indulgence.
Enjoy National Coffee Day, but take a moment to reflect on the dos and donts outlined above – a true Coffee Break!
~ Maggie J.