How Taking Breaks Can Help Your Mental Health

Whether you’re a student, a working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, you need to take breaks. Taking a break can look differently for each person. the overall goal is to stop doing whatever you’re doing long enough that you feel re-energized when you return to it. That’s why employers give you paid time off (PTO) and sick time. That’s why there are things called, “study breaks”. And that’s why there’s a saying, “come back to it when you can”. When taking breaks, there could be a lot of feelings that arise such as guilt as a break could feel like a waste of time and unproductive. I will discuss why this is not actually the case.

Anchor Therapy is a counseling center in Hoboken, NJ with psychotherapists specialized to help teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions.

What is considered a break?

  • Anything that is relaxing

  • Anything enjoyable

  • Physically and/or emotionally stopping and pulling away from a task

  • Time in between working

  • Physically walking away from what’s in front of you/ where you were sitting or positioned for some time

  • Taking a nap

  • Listening to music

  • Calling a friend/family member

  • Going to the bathroom

  • Eating food

  • Grabbing coffee/a drink

  • Switching up whatever it is that you’re doing for an extended period of time

  • Going for a walk

  • Exercise

  • Take your dog for a walk

  • Sleep

  • See a mental health therapist

There are many ways you can take a break and everyone’s different. It also depends on what activity/task you need to take a break from. An example is if you’re studying for an exam then it would be smart to schedule in breaks ahead of time. This could include taking a pause from studying to go to the bathroom, get food, take 22 minutes off to watch an enjoyable show on Netflix, or talk to a friend. There are a lot of things you can do to take a break from studying, but the biggest thing I recommend is scheduling it out ahead of time. Because once you get into work/study mode, then it will be hard to stop and take a break. You will feel you’re “in the zone” and want to continue so that you can get your studying over with. And you may feel you want to utilize all of the time possible to study for your exam. But research has shown that our brains and bodies need breaks. So if you can take breaks throughout studying and then try to get a good night’s rest before an exam, you will most likely do better on your exam than if you studied non-stop without a break and did not get a good night’s sleep leading up to the exam.

Taking breaks are not only for students. Adults who work jobs needs breaks just as much. Throughout a typical work day, you want to make sure you’re fitting in some breaks to eat, go to the bathroom, and/or scroll on Instagram while you have a few minutes down time. You also want to treat your PTO like a much, needed extended break from work. You must use your time off. You will return to work after your time off feeling rejuvenated and a better worker. Whether you want to take a 2-week extended time off once or twice a year, or you take a few days off each month- you decide what you need to help you stay focused and sane when you are at your job. We are all human and in need of breaks so make sure you’re taking your PTO and sick time as needed.

You don’t have to be in constant work/study mode to deserve a break. Another great example are stay-at-home parents. They are constantly busy while running around after their kids, cooking, cleaning, going to appointments, attending play dates, dropping kids off, picking kids up, etc. The job of a parent can feel never ending and that you’re not in control. This is why it’s important to schedule in breaks for yourself. To make sure you are able to get this done, you may need to have someone else watch your child so that you can take a break by getting your nails done, going to the gym, seeing friends, or even being able to shower in peace.

Common feelings that come up during/after taking a break:

  • Guilt

  • Lack of motivation

  • Lack of purpose

  • Laziness

  • Shame

  • Procrastinating

  • Unsuccessful

  • Selfish

These feelings can be very common for someone that has a hard time taking breaks and practicing self-care. Someone that is motivated to keep going, going, going will most likely see taking a break as a weakness, pointless, or even detrimental to their productivity and success. But that is not true. Taking a break is needed to be successful. By working on something consistently without breaks, you WILL experience burnout. Burnout means that you start to resent your work, you are not performing as well, and you may feel symptoms of anxiety/overwhelm. When it comes to work, it gets challenging to understand this as you may think, “Well if I take a break from working for just 1 hour, I will make X amount less money.” Or if you’re studying for an exam you may think back and blame yourself for not studying every waking second leading up to your exam. You must understand that your brain and body NEED breaks. Even if it’s for 5 minutes at a time or you wait to take a 2-week vacation, you need to take a break. In the long run, it’s not worth your mental health and physical health to make extra money or to get an A+ on an exam. Because if you continuously practice self-care and take breaks, you will be a more well rounded person and you will actually do better in the long term at your job, school, and anything you set your mind to. Because you will constantly feel rested and rejuvenated rather than the feeling of burnout and stress. You will overall feeling happier in life- and that’s the real goal.

Taking breaks is an ongoing conversation I have with my clients, especially those experiencing anxiety, feelings of overwhelm, or burnout. It’s important to practice self-care so that you can function at your best level. IF you’re just working nonstop then you won’t have any time to take care of yourself and what your body physically and mentally needs. If you’re noticing that you’re having a really hard time taking breaks and taking care of yourself then a great step in the right direction is seeking help from a mental health professional.

Psychotherapist Hoboken Courtney Glashow

Courtney Glashow, LCSW

is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in helping teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions through counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth (video/phone) therapy sessions as well.

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