You Should Absolutely Take a Break Right Now

You can’t pour from an empty cup

By Barbara Pierce

Life is busy. You work all day, eat lunch at your desk, get home to care for your partner and children, tackle the endless responsibilities that come with being an adult.

Unfortunately, powering through without a pause can do you more harm than good, psychologists say.

It’s important to sneak in some “mental health breaks” throughout the day.

Nourishing yourself first, to ensure that you’re not “pouring from an empty cup,” is a priority that will help you take care of everyone who counts on you, said wellness coach Lisa Marie Chirico, founder of Care Planet, a website focusing on health and wellness.

Taking the time to work mental health breaks into your day is a part of this. Your brain can’t focus all the time. If you try to force it into the focus mode for too long, it loses its ability to do that.

“After I’ve worked steadily for several hours, I lose it,” said office manager Christine Mason of Pearson, Florida. “I try to Google something and I can’t even remember what I was looking for. When I take a break and do something else for a few minutes, the juices come flowing again.”

Simply put, a mental health break is anything that allows you to step back, relax, and recharge your brain, so the juices coming flowing again. Mental health breaks can look different for everyone. Some mental health breaks may only last a few minutes. Others may include a week-long vacation.

Ideal is a mixture of the two, smaller breaks to keep you going throughout the week, along with longer breaks to help perform a deeper reset. You may even treat yourself for a day at a medical spa and pamper yourself.

“No activity is too trivial or small,” suggested Chirico, who has written two self-help style books.

These small moments can help you ground yourself, boost your mood, improve focus, improve productivity and decision making, and make you happier in your job.

You may have a good idea of what a mental health break would look like for you, but here are a few ideas of how to spend that break time.

• Walk outside with work mates, or by yourself, during your lunch hour, advised Chirico.

“Research proves that time spent in nature nourishes our bodies and minds on several levels,” she said.

Walking with others increases the chemicals in your brain, the key to feelings of well-being.

Also, the movement caused by walking increase circulation, makes you more alert, and helps to decrease tension in your body.

• Stretch: If you are like many who sit behind a desk for hours, get out of your chair at least once an hour to walk around and stretch your arms and legs.

Sneak in a few stretches, that can be as simple as gently rotating your neck, doing shoulder or ankle rolls, lifting your hands above your head or bending down to touch your toes.

• Take screen breaks throughout the day. Five minutes in every hour should be spent away from the screen. It’s also important to make sure you change posture regularly.

For your eyes, try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look up from your screen at something about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds, to give the muscles in your eyes a chance to relax.

• Connect with friends and family: Improve your mood throughout the day by checking in with those you care about. Connecting with others raises the level of the chemicals in your brain which produces feelings of well-being and helps alleviate stress.

“Contact an old friend that you haven’t spoken to in a long time, phone your parents during your commute to work,” suggested Chirico. Or make a coffee or lunch date with your partner or with work mates.

How do you know when you need a break? Listen to your body. Do your eyes hurt from looking into the computer screen? Are your legs stiff from sitting in the same position for too long? Are you yawning every 90 seconds?

These are just a few of the signals your body is sending to tell you it’s time for a break. Too often, though, we ignore these signals because we think that a break will cut into our productivity. But, actually, a few minutes away from your work will enhance your capacity.

Our bodies go through cycles each day where energy peaks and then subsides. Most of us have more energy in the morning, but get tired in the middle of the afternoon. Plan a break during this natural down cycle when your body is tired and needs a recharge.

The bottom line is: a mental health break can be anything you want it to be. Whatever it is, just make sure it’s something that leaves you feeling relaxed and recharged.

“In the middle of our busy lives, we need to remember that, just like plants, we need air, water and love to thrive,” Chirico said.

Chirico can be reached at Or see

4 Holiday Stress Management Tips

If you feel you’re prone to holiday burnout, you can formulate an effective holiday stress management strategy with these four keys to avoiding holiday burnout:

1. Perspective: Try to keep the whole experience in its proper perspective by remembering that the holiday season represents only a very short portion of the year, which will soon be at its end. Holiday time does not necessarily need to be the most important or meaningful time of the year. Only you can decide what is most significant for you. Realize that many others feel the same way as you and may also be experiencing disillusion, stress, or anxiety.

2. Preconceived ideas: Banish preconceived ideas about how the holiday season should be. This can be a difficult task for those steeped in tradition, but it can also be very liberating. Think about your holiday traditions and try to separate those you truly enjoy from those you feel you must do because you’ve always done so or you are expected by others to do so. Consider doing something different to celebrate this year. It’s equally important to banish preconceived notions about how you should be feeling at this time.

3. Planning: Always think before committing to any responsibility or social event. Don’t make any snap decisions and give yourself time to reflect on any proposed commitment or responsibility (just say you have to check your calendar first). Decide what the right level of social activity is for you to feel happiest — from a party every day to none at all — and plan accordingly. Remember that what sounds fun (or manageable) two months in advance might be the stuff of headaches when combined with other pressures at holiday time. If you’re planning as part of a couple or family unit, talk over your feelings in advance and agree to make commitments only after discussion with the others involved.

4. Permission: Finally, give yourself permission — to feel as you do and to make the choices you need. Do not judge or compare your feelings or actions with those of anyone else. You have the right to define for yourself the things that are important for you and the ways you plan to make the holidays enjoyable and meaningful for you.