Self-Care 2015: Taking Breaks at Work

As December comes to a close, many of us are getting ready to go back to work.  Some of us may be dreading it.  And, some of us may be setting intentions on how to do things better in 2015.

Many of us work in a fast paced environment where it is hard to get a second to breathe — whether it is in an office, a technology company, a restaurant, a non-profit job, social services, teaching, etc.  Taking a break may feel too luxurious when there are so many demands on us.  This is a common thread I hear from so many of my clients.

However, many of us are probably taking breaks at work in ways we don’t even realize– by checking our phones, going on facebook, going out for coffee or a snack, schmoozing with a co-worker.  By the end of the day, we feel really unproductive, guilty, and tired.  Does this sound familiar??

The good news is: breaks are great for our health, and we don’t need to feel bad about it!  In 2015, I encourage you to keep taking breaks, and to be more intentional about how you break.  

Our brains were not meant to think continuously on one thought or project for an extended period of time.  When we are off doing something else, our brain is still processing the day’s previous events in the background.  Physical motion, in particular, helps our brain get a different perspective and figure out problems.  Many of us have had the experience of a great idea coming to us when we were out on a walk or running an errand.  Albert Einstein claims he came up with his theory of relativity while riding his bicycle!



We live in a culture in the United States that places a high value on working around the clock, and always being available for work.  But, it does not have to be this way!  In fact, studies have shown, productivity increases when people get a chance to take a break or a vacation.

A short 5 minute break every hour can go a long way to help:

– Alleviate stress

– Increase focus. memory, and productivity

– Break up some of the postural issues that come with staying in one position too long

– Get some physical activity

– Connect to others

– Connect to nature/ the outdoors

– Create new neural pathways, and help us see things in a different perspective.

There are all sorts of apps and timers that you can install on your computer at work to remind you to get up and stretch or walk around.  But, I encourage you, if you use this software, to take it as a suggestion, rather than a mandate.  I’ve known several people who have installed these types of programs on their computers, rarely follow them, and end up disabling them after a few months.  This repeats the cycle of feeling bad about oneself for not being able to adhere to a break regimen (much like the cycle of feeling bad about oneself for not being able to adhere to a diet or exercise plan).

We don’t need an external source to tell us when to break.

What break sequence feels right to you?  What chunk of time can you best focus for: is it one hour, 45 minutes, 10 minutes?  Play around with different timing of work and break intervals throughout your day (if your job allows you that ability).  You can even keep a journal and record how different increments of work and rest feel for you.  Know that some days you will feel distracted, and some days you just want to plug on through.  Try to find a balance between harnessing your creative energy, and taking breaks when you can.

Listen to your body.  Become aware of the patterns you develop in your work, without judgement.  Notice what time of day you tend to break, or to feel “burnt out” and try to build that into your schedule.  For example, instead of feeling badly about being sluggish at 3pm, if you know you get weary at this time, plan to take a 10 minute walk with a friend.

What types of breaks are useful?

– Get up and move around: do jumping jacks, take a walk, jog up and down the stairs, throw punches in the air (for example)

If you tend to be in one posture all day, a break can help you press the “reset” button and bring awareness to parts of your body that may be tight or sore, or held in uncomfortable positions

Increasing your heart rate for just 5 min a day can go a long way in having more energy, increasing metabolism, and improving sleep

– Stretch

Muscles get tense with stress, and we develop chronic postural problems with sitting all day (or even standing all day).  Stretching can relieve tension and can also help us to be more mindful of where we hold tension in our work day.  Not sure where to start?  How about posting this in your cubicle?

– Call a friend, or say hi to a co-worker

Socializing is great for our mental health because it breaks the isolation many of us can feel, especially if we’re in a job where we’re not actively collaborating with others, and it adds a positive social element to the day.

– Meditate for 5 minutes

There has been so much research about mindfulness and its ability to help brain function and mental clarity, and reduce stress and anxiety.  New to meditation?  This website gives some easy tips on how to get started.  

– Look at cute animal pictures

It’s so hard not to smile when looking at cute animals!  Just be aware to also take some time away from the screen.  If you have a real animal nearby, even better!

This is just a partial list, I’d love to hear from you what you will do in 2015 to take a break!

cute cat


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