5 Ways to Take a Break at Work (and Stress Less) in 60 Seconds
These science-backed hacks can help you lower your stress levels almost instantly
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
No one needs to tell you that work is a source of stress. But the workplace—and its unrelenting deadlines, meetings, politics, and frustrations—has become the leading stressor for Americans. According to a recent review of data, 83 percent of workers in the United States suffer from work-related stress. Among that group, 25 percent report that work is their number one complaint.
While work stress takes a toll in numerous ways in our everyday lives, perhaps the largest toll is on mental well-being. Recently Calm, the mental health brand, asked users what difficult moments prompted them to use the app. Facing challenges at work was the most common response.
Eradicating workplace stress obviously isn’t an option. That leaves everyone in need of different ways to handle that stress better. The answer may seem too obvious.
“Taking a mental health break can take you out of the monotony—or chaos—of your day and bring you back to the present, allowing you to re-enter your work day less stressed and more focused, increasing your productivity in a calm and sustainable way,” says Madeline Lucas, a New York-based therapist at Real, a mental health therapy platform.
Easier said than done. If you think you’re too busy to take a break, feel guilty slipping away during work hours, or don’t want your co-workers to think you’re unproductive, you’re not alone. Those are the top three reasons why workers don’t take a break during the day for their mental health, according to a Calm Business report.
But finding even 60 seconds to be present with yourself and your surroundings can help you feel more centered, says Jay Shetty, a life coach, host of the On Purpose podcast, best-selling author, and chief purpose officer at Calm.
When Do You Need to Take a Break at Work?
It may seem like you would know when you need to take a break. But that’s not necessarily the case. “Taking breaks at work is not intuitive,” Shetty says. “We haven’t been trained on when to take breaks or how to do them, so most people just skip them and take their stress into the next task or meeting.”
There are actually classic signs of needing to take a mental health break. Lucas explains, “Are you, for instance, having difficulty focusing or completing a task, becoming easily distracted by other thoughts or activities, or even noticing a dull numbness if you’ve been on your computer too long?”
You might also notice that you’re more irritated, annoyed, or resentful toward your coworkers and tasks than usual. Even feeling constantly fatigued can indicate you need to step away from the screen. Check in with yourself throughout the day—or even the hour.
5 Ways to Take a Break at Work (in Less than 60 Seconds)
How long you take a break is up to you. The more time you can devote to your mental health, the better. Although any amount of time for a break is better than none. Even 60 seconds.
The duration of your break might also depend on your manager or your workplace. “No one will probably notice if you take one minute for a few deep breaths before a meeting,” Shetty says.
If, however, you intend to take a longer break, you might want to communicate your need for that.
The most important thing to remember is, as Shetty says, “a short break is better than no break.” Here are five to try.
1. Stretch Your Neck
Settle yourself comfortably in your chair, close your eyes or soften your gaze, and release your shoulders away from your ears. Lower your chin toward your chest and slowly roll your head from side to side. As you do this, breathe deeply. Repeat at least two to three times, Lucas says. Releasing tight muscles in your neck can activate the vagus nerve, which in turn kicks in your parasympathetic nervous system, which lessens physical and mental tension.
2. Practice the Three W’s
This refers to “walk, water, and window,” a practice that Shetty created. First, take a walk, which has stress-reducing benefits. Bonus points if you can be outside. But even just walking into another room or down the hallway can help, he says.
Next, drink some water. “Five cups of water per day lowers the risk of anxiety,” he says. This, by the way, comes from a recent study in the World Journal of Psychiatry.
The last one is looking into the distance through a window. Not only will you give your mind a well-needed break, you’ll also reduce eye strain, he says. Follow the 20-20-20 rule from the American Optometric Association: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.
3. Slow Your Breathing
Turning your attention to your breath is one of the most time-tested and science-backed ways to give your body and mind a break. Slowing your breath causes your heart rate to lessen, your blood pressure to lower, and your mind to quiet. And it can start to take effect in just a few seconds. Although focusing on your breath won’t eradicate the source of your stress, it can modulate how you show up to it.
Inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. Or as you breathe in, say “inhale” in your head, and say “exhale” as you breathe out. You could also use a specific mantra that matches your inhale and exhale. One option sometimes used in yoga is “so hum,” which means “I am that” in Sanskrit; say “so” to yourself as you inhale and “hum” as you exhale.
4. Tap It Out
Using your fingertips, lightly tap across your chest, then down each arm and back up to your chest. Take long, slow breaths as you do so. “This can awaken your system and reground you in the present moment,” Lucas says.
How, exactly? “Tapping is another way you can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to signal messages of safety, calm and relaxation to the brain,” she says. Science supports this.
5. Give (and Receive) Some TLC
Although silly pet videos can soothe your nervous system by making you laugh, research indicates that the real deal is even more effective. Engaging with a cat or dog for 10 minutes can significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Can’t take a break for that long? Finding one minute to play with your fur baby isn’t going to make you feel worse.