Taking Breaks: A Guide

Disclaimer: this guide is not a replacement for actual medical advice.
We can’t promise it will transport you into a magical utopian dimension where everything is fine, and no-one is ever tired or stressed again, but knowledge is power and we want to give you the power to take a dang break.

Importance of Breaks

Breaks are good for you.
We all know it, but when was the last time you had a proper break?
The last time you planned to stop working and take some time to yourself, did you skip over it in favour of “just getting this last bit of work done”?

Micro-breaks, longer breaks and day breaks, have all been shown to help with wellbeing and productivity.
Avoiding breaks can leave you feeling more tired and stressed, less focused and in a worse mood at the end of the day. It can also reduce your ability to be creative.
What do you have to lose?

Taking a break may mean being active. It may mean not doing very much at all.
A break is about resting from work, and what that means to you.

We’re not here to intimidate you into taking time off; consider us the “guiding hand”, advising you that you’d really get a lot more done if you just put your laptop down for 5 minutes.
It sounds like a contradiction – hear us out.

Micro Breaks

Micro breaks can reduce and prevent stress, and help you feel less zapped at the end of the day.
Take short breaks often, rather than longer breaks less often.
5 to 10 minutes each hour is better than 20 minutes every 2 hours.

If you find it difficult to remember, here’s some top tips:

  • Work alongside some friends and help each other to stick to break times you’ve agreed, you could even set up a group chat to message each other reminders
  • Set an alarm on your phone (make it a soothing tone though, no need to go into your break to the sound of an air horn)
  • Plan to do something in your break that you enjoy, the motivation will help you disengage from work
  • Pay attention to any positive things you experience when you take a break, it’ll help you to realise the good impact

Worried about the void of break time?
Here are a couple of things you can do in 5 to 10 minutes:

Chair Yoga

7/11 Breathing

6 Min Yoga Chill – Yoga with Adriene


Longer Breaks

Taking lunchtime breaks (30 minutes or more) and disengaging from work allows your brain to rest and refocus, decreasing exhaustion. Over a long period of time, it can also increase energy levels.

If you’re finding it hard to make the most of your lunch break, here are some quick tips:

  • Come up with a weekly meal plan for lunch. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but the prompt will prevent you spending 15 minutes deciding what to eat.
  • Like micro-breaks, plan something to do in your break that you enjoy
  • Try to spend your lunch break in a space you find relaxing, maybe a favourite spot on the sofa. Anywhere that’s away from your work area.
  • Make the most of the daylight! If it’s too cold and wet to go outside, try sitting by a window. Why not indulge in some people-watching?

Day Breaks

Day breaks are important for recovery of mental health and stress.
It’s important to recognise the signs that you need to take a mental health break:

  • You can’t focus
  • Your relationships are suffering
  • You’re showing physical signs of stress
  • You’re neglecting self-care

The idea of taking a whole day off can be stressful in itself!
The best way to avoid this stress is to schedule a day off ahead of time, but it’s also just as valid to spontaneously need a day when you notice the signs of burnout.
Some workplaces are more supportive that others about mental health breaks, although there has been a movement to destigmatise mental health conversations.
If you feel that your work wouldn’t accept a mental health day as a reason for a day off, you can:

  • Call in sick
  • Plan to use some of your time off
  • Schedule your mental health day for a day you’ve already booked off

Taking a mental health day often means taking time out to relax.
It can mean watching TV in pyjamas, reading a good book, or journaling your feelings.
Some activities can take a little more effort and feel immensely relaxing or fulfilling once they're completed.

Some things you can try include:

  • Attending an online yoga class
  • Taking a nature walk
  • Tidying or cleaning a room, or section of a room

If stress is piling up and you're looking for a way to slow down and sort out the tangle, you may want to take a day to restructure things. You may not be able to fix all the issues in one day, but you might be able to make good impact on a few, which may help your stress levels in the long run.
Don't expect to be able to take on all your stress in a single day. Use it as a chance to evaluate, plan, and get ready to work on those changes.

Overall, breaks go hand-in-hand with good wellbeing and productivity.
If you don’t take regular and effective breaks, the build up of stress and exhaustion will lead to needing to take a more significant time away from work later on, and will take you longer to recover.
It can feel like you’re doing less work in the short-term, but in the long-term you’re ensuring that you can maintain a healthy balance of work and rest.
For more wellbeing resources and tips, take a look at our Small Things Matter webpage, and follow @aubsu_matter on Instagram.


In case you don’t believe us, here’s where we got our top-secret info: