No one needs to tell you that work is a source of stress. But the workplace and its inexorable deadlines, meetings, politics and frustration has become the biggest stressor for Americans. According to a recent data review, 83% of workers in the United States experience work-related stress. Among that group, 25 percent report that work is their number one complaint.
While work-related stress impacts our daily lives in many ways, perhaps the greatest toll is on mental well-being. Mental health brand Calm recently asked users what difficult moments prompted them to use the app. Facing challenges at work was the most common response.
Eradicating workplace stress is obviously not an option. That leaves everyone needing different ways to better manage stress. The answer may seem too obvious.
Taking a break for mental health can take you out of the monotony or chaos of your day and back into 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 therapist at Real, a mental health therapy platform.
Easier said that done. If you think you’re too busy to take time off, feel guilty sneaking off during work hours, or don’t want your coworkers to think you’re unproductive, you’re not alone. These are the top three reasons workers don’t take breaks during the day for their mental health, according to a report from Calm Business.
But finding even just 60 seconds to be present with yourself and your surroundings can help you feel more grounded, says Jay Shetty, 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 might seem like you know when you need to take a break. But that’s not necessarily the case. Taking breaks at work isn’t intuitive, says Shetty. We haven’t been trained on when to take breaks or how to take them, so most people just skip them and carry their stress into the next activity or meeting.
There are actually classic signs that you need to take a break from mental health. Lucas explains, For example, do you find it difficult to concentrate or complete a task, are you easily distracted by other thoughts or activities, or even notice a dull numbness if you’ve been on the computer too long?
You may also notice that you are more irritated, annoyed, or resentful of your coworkers and your homework than usual. Feeling constantly tired can also indicate that you need to step away from the screen. Monitor 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 time off is up to you. The more time you can devote to your mental health, the better. Though any amount of time for a break is better than none. Even 60 seconds.
The length of your break may also depend on your manager or your workplace. Probably no one will notice if you take a minute for a few deep breaths before a meeting, says Shetty.
If, however, you intend to take a longer break, you may wish to communicate your need.
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
Sit comfortably in the chair, close your eyes or soften your gaze and take your shoulders away from your ears. She lowers her chin to her chest and slowly rolls her head from side to side. As you do this, she breathes deeply. Repeat at least two or three times, says Lucas. Releasing tense neck muscles can activate the vagus nerve, which in turn kicks into the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces physical and mental tension.
2. Practice the three W’s
This refers to walking, water and window, a practice Shetty created. First, go for a walk, which has stress-reducing benefits. Bonus points if you can be outside. But just walking into another room or down the hall can help, too, she says.
Then, drink some water. Five glasses of water a day reduces your risk of anxiety, she 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-deserved break, but you’ll also reduce eye strain, he says. Follow the American Optometric Association’s 20-20-20 rule: 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 tested and science-backed ways to give your body and mind a break. Slowing your breathing causes your heart rate to drop, your blood pressure to drop, and your mind to calm down. And it can start taking effect in seconds. While focusing on your breathing won’t eliminate the source of your stress, it can modulate how you present yourself.
Inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. Or as you inhale, say inhale into your head and say exhale as you exhale. You could also use a specific mantra that matches your inhalation and exhalation. One option sometimes used in yoga is so hum, which means I’m that in Sanskrit; say it to yourself as you inhale and hum as you exhale.
4. Tap it out
Using your fingertips, tap lightly on your chest, then down each arm and back to your chest. Take long, slow breaths as you do this. This can wake up your system and re-ground you in the present moment, says Lucas.
How, exactly? Touch is another way you can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to signal messages of safety, calmness and relaxation to the brain, she says. Science backs it up.
5. Give (and receive) some TLC
While silly pet videos can calm your nervous system by making you laugh, research indicates that the real deal is even more effective. Interacting with a cat or dog for 10 minutes can significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Can’t take a break that long? Finding a minute to play with your fur baby won’t make you feel any worse.
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