Cool, cooler, office water cooler

Posted: 13 May, 2016

By: Annemarie Lombard

Section: Corporate


If you are taking the time out of your busy day to read this, it’s likely that you are brain dead… in need of a brain break.


you would rather remain seated reading this because taking a break entails the following:

  • A dereliction of duties.
  • A cost of time you can’t afford to waste.
  • Or finally, you got momentum going so why break now and risk losing your stride?
  • Avoiding the pervasive guilty feeling of all the un-ticked tasks that worry you throughout that break you eventually take.

So instead, here you are sitting passively under the pretence of productivity reading this blog about taking a break.  Feeling a little annoyed by the irony?  A fun way of releasing frustrations is listing irritations… so here is my List of Life’s Irritations (aka LOLIs):

  • Putting my hand on old chewing gum when gripping a handrail
  • The chewers themselves
  • People that sniff in a weird way

Your LOLIs might include:

  • Mothers in law
  • People who ask “Can I ask you a question?” Didn’t really give me a choice there, did you sunshine?
  • When something is “new and improved”! Which is it? If it’s new, then nothing ever preceded it. If it’s an improvement, then there must have been something before it.
  • When people say “life is short.” Helllllooo! Life is the longest damn thing anyone ever does! What can you do that’s longer? Whilst the LOLI can be endless, there is one irritation of mine that surpasses them all ….. the office water cooler

There was one irritating cooler in particular that stood right at the entrance of the hospital where I worked. Sure it was cool – populated by staff, patients and their family almost every second of the day.  I disliked Coolio (its decided name). The feelings were clearly mutual because every time I decided to hydrate my body with something other than caffeine, there was never any water in it.


ALWAYS empty

On one particular occasion, I was asked to change the top and this experience was a watershed moment for me.  After my non-intended shower, holding the plastic container, disconnected from its base, it dawned on me that we were both empty. My inability to navigate the rapids of a typical work day left me high and dry. With my new found connection and empathy towards Coolio, I mantled it back to its roots and noticed that it had no middle tap. Only two: hot and cold. One boiling, the other icy: much like our nervous systems.

Our ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) has two components, the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System, known as the hot tap) and the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System, known as the cool tap). The SNS heats our body up for that flight, fright, fight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The PNS is the cool water, diffusing the flames set off inside our bodies.

They are both necessary. One allows for narrow, focussed zoning, the other is a more diffusive mode of thinking – which by the way, allows for better creative thinking. With the daily demands we tap into our hot system more so than our cold, causing us to reach boiling points quicker than ever before, and even worse: burnout.

The reality is that we are overusing the hot tap. Our brains are so efficiently wired that when stress comes our way – the SNS fires up our body so quickly, pumping adrenaline through our bodies, before we have even had time to properly process the realities of the actual stressor. Like Eskom, our brain load sheds and the first to shutdown is our neocortex (the thinking part).

There are two ways to self-regulate: bottom-up or top-down.

  • If we go the latter route we are using mental preparation and self-talk to help calm and organise the brain. This has its place BUT becomes less effective when the hot tap is running.
  • On the adverse, bottom-top regulation asks that we stop thinking all together, start doing and moving from our unregulated and disengaged space to a more centred and calmer space, within which we can put the fun back in function.

Sensory Intelligence® taps into this understanding to help us rewire before we expire! Neuroscience explains why the walk to the water cooler may be worth your while.

So, the long and short of it: take a break before reaching your breaking point!

Written by Cailyn Sonderup is a certified Occupational Therapist (OT) and a member of the Golden Key Foundation. She is passionate about neuroscience and sensory integration. Her curiosity has also led her on a journey exploring psychological constructs applicable to OT, namely: resilience, self-regulation and mindful-based-cognitive-therapy. She is motivated to promote wellbeing and help individuals to learn, grow and flourish in their daily life though sensory awareness and regulation.


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