Why Science Says You Should Take Breaks At Work

Americans spend about one-third of their lives at work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That can seem pretty terrifying, but as long as you do what you love and take breaks regularly, science says you will be a lot happier and less stressed.

That’s right — science says that if you get up from your chair and take breaks at work, then you will come back feeling more energized and focused, according to Real Simple.

Researchers at Baylor University studied 95 employees between the ages of 22 and 67 over the course of a five-day workweek and asked them to record the breaks they took everyday. Each person averaged two breaks per day, and scientists first noticed that the best time to take a break is mid-morning.

“When more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break,” according to the study.

The researchers found, though, that the mid-morning break need not be unrelated to work in order for an employee to reap benefits from it. Rather, they found that you just have to be doing something you enjoy during the break.

working photo
Photo by mabahamo

The scientists also found that shorter, more frequent breaks were better than one two-hour break. Those who took some of these “successful” work breaks stayed in better health, had a higher job satisfaction and suffered from less frequent headaches, eyestrain or lower back pain following the break, according to the study.

And the Baylor study isn’t the only one that has found a laundry list of benefits from breaking from work often. University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras told Fast Company that frequent breaks actually help you stay focused while you’re working.

Often, when you work for a long time, you become bored or distracted from what you’re doing. The solution? Step away from the desk!

“Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” Lleras told Fast Company. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”

coffee break photo
Photo by Un ragazzo chiamato Bi
And, strangely enough, focusing stops us from solving new, extremely difficult problems. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley told Mother Jones that diffuse mode thinking is a relaxed, daydream mode that “can allow the brain to hook up and return valuable insights.” But when you’re focusing without any breaks, “you’re actually blocking your access to the diffuse mode.”

In an op-ed for the New York TimesTim Kreider perfectly described just what breaks feel like for the working, maybe overly-stressed mind:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets … It is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

So, really, step away from that desk, put the notebook down and walk around a bit or grab a coffee. If you just can’t seem to pry your eyes away from work, then read why working more than 40 hours a week actually makes you less productive.

Photo by Tabsinthe

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About the Author
Josephine Yurcaba
Josephine Yurcaba is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. She specializes in lifestyle content, women's issues, politics, and New York music. She has written for Bustle, The Daily Meal, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone.

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