By Dale Isip

A productive workday might include long periods of activity and interaction, but work breaks may be just as important. A 2019 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, for example, found that short breaks were associated with learning new skills.

Similarly, a 2018 study found physical activity and relaxation breaks could reduce fatigue – specifically better than unstructured rest periods. In order to further explore the benefits of downtime, and as part National Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some ways to make the most of breaks at work.

Benefits of Breaks

Work breaks have been associated with lower levels of worker fatigue, injury, and errors. In addition to this, physically-oriented breaks have been linked to beneficially-lowered levels of certain bodily components such as glucose and insulin.

In terms of mental health, breaks have been shown to increase worker productivity, creativity, and lower stress. Short breaks in particular may even contribute to periods of better learning , as rest periods seem to improve the neural activity of the brain’s right hemisphere.

In addition to this, taking breaks from the news and social media has also been associated with lower rates of anxiety and depression. A 2022 study, for example, revealed a week-long break from social media improved levels of self-reported optimism and mental clarity in test subjects.

Times for Breaks   

The benefits associated with breaks are apparent, but the right time for breaks can depend on the nature of your work and your environment.

If you have an office or desk job, for example, you might consider a five-minute break on an hourly basis. Alternately, you could work in regular, timed intervals of 25 to 30 minutes, followed by short periods of downtime.

If you are engaged with clients at work – or work a shift schedule – you may want to take breaks at least every two hours. Night or evening shift workers may need longer or additional breaks as incidents of error tend to increase during these times.

Ways To Take Breaks      

You might think that taking a break is just time away from your work. This is partially true, but to get the most out of your breaks, you might have to do more than check your social media or watch a news video.

For instance, you could get up and take a walk. Physical activity has been linked to lower rates of depression at work. In addition, such activity could help reduce stress and help improve creative processes.

Practicing mindfulness may be another good way to take a break, and this is an intended focus on your surroundings and breathing patterns. Whether you are sitting or standing, these practices can help improve mental clarity and empathy.

An Approach to Work

Break periods are meant to help you come back to work. With breaks, you will likely feel less tired, open to new ideas, or even more invigorated. Regular breaks can be a healthy addition to your workday – potentially improving the quality of your mental health and work productivity.