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Take better breaks this Stress Awareness Month

  • 4 min read

April is Stress Awareness Month, an annual event held for more than 30 years to highlight the issue of stress, its causes and the ways in which it can be managed and ameliorated. 

The theme of this year’s Awareness Month is#LittleByLittle, highlighting the potentially transformative impact of taking consistent, small, positive actions to protect and enhance our mental wellbeing. 

With this in mind, we decided to explore the variety of ways in which small breaks can be incorporated into the working day - from the value of screen breaks to the latest research around micro-breaks. 

Screen breaks 

Staring at a screen for eight or more hours a day represents some pretty heavy lifting, visually speaking. Symptoms of eye fatigue such as headaches, poor concentration, watery or itchy eyes will only heighten stress levels – but when you’re flat out, remembering to look away from the screen periodically can be a real challenge. 

Taking a deliberate approach – such as the ‘20-20-20 method’ – can be a huge help. This technique simply involves taking your eyes away from the screen for 20 seconds every20 minutes to focus instead on something 20 feet away. 

Looking up and blinking tackles the dry eyes that come with the reduced blink rate caused by staring at a screen. Similarly, by shifting the focal distance, you reduce the strain placed on the eye muscles when sustaining a fixed focus. 

The key thing is setting a reminder - a pop up on your screen, for example, or a ping on your phone. Anyone can manage a 20 second break, even on the busiest of days, and you’re going to be more productive and feel less stressed if you don’t have uncomfortable eyes and a sore head to contend with. 


The ‘micro-break’ was first explored in research published in the Ergonomics journal back in 1989 anda growing body of evidence has shown thattiny breaks can have a disproportionate impact on worker wellbeing. A more recent research review of micro-breaks, published in August 2022, found those who took such breaks (defined as ten minutes or less) experienced statistically significant boosts in their wellbeing. They also felt more vigorous and less fatigued.  

However, there is no consensus about the optimal duration for a micro-break. The review, based on 22 studies, included some which suggested recovery effects could be gained in as little as 30 or 40 seconds, while others proposed several minutes. 

Interestingly, micro-breaks have also been shown to be effective for manual workers as well as knowledge workers. A recently published study, “Breaking the Fatigue Cycle,” examined the impact of takingshort “micro-breaks” of no more than a minute every 10 minutes to either rest or stretch, for study participants tasked with moving boxes. 

Researchers concluded such small breaks during a work shift could significantly reduce muscle fatigue and potentially reduce its consequent risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, without negatively affecting productivity. 

How to take little breaks 

As with screen breaks, it is no good relying on your memory to take regular breaks at work – good intentions are easily forgotten with pressing work demands to contend with. You will need a system or technique to follow through. 

Here are a few hacks to help you take better short breaks: 

  • Try the Pomodoro Technique:Developed in the late 1980s, this simple procedure involves using atimerto break work into chunks. The typical ‘Pomodoro’ work interval is 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks,typically between 5 and 10 minutes. After four ‘Pomodoros’, you take a longer break of around 20 to 30 minutes, then start all over again. 
  • Mindful breathing: Take a few minutes to focus on your breath, inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth to help clear your mind and improve concentration. Give yourself a cue to do so – a reminder on your phone, or when you move from one task to another for example. 
  • Drink plenty of water: This is great for hydration, but it will also necessitate more frequent trips to the loo – useful natural breaks in the day. 
  • Move to the printer or photocopier: A walk to pick up some paperwork makes for a handy microbreak. 
  • Schedule meetings in another room or, better still, a walking meeting. Take a microbreak en-route. 
  • Stretch and Move: Try setting a timer to remind yourself to take a quick walk around the office 30 minutes or do some simple stretches like shoulder rolls and leg stretches. 
  • Nature Break: Connecting with nature has numerous health benefits, including reduced stress relief and improved mood. So take your breaks outside if you can, perhaps walking in a nearby park or sitting in a sunny spot by a window. 
  • Connect with co-workers - whether it's a cup of coffee in a break room or a quick catch-up in the hallway, connecting with coworkers on a personal level can help strengthen relationships and make work more enjoyable. An opportunity to debrief and consult, these conversations can be stress busters too. 

Intuitively, we’re all aware that pushing through with work when we’re feeling tired or run down isn’t really very good for us, even if it’s sometimes absolutely necessary. Taking breaks during the working day can help us stay healthier, happier and more productive. 

However, you don’t need to carve hefty chunks out of your busy schedule. The research is clear that regular short or even micro breaks can have powerful effects, whether you’re doing a little light stretching or simply pausing to look out of the window. 

What kind of breaks you take is up to you. You are the best judge of what is most practical and effective in the context of your role and workplace. The important thing is to make sure you take some! 

If you’re not already doing this, then this April’s Stress Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity to try out some strategies for regular small breaks and to discover what works for you. 

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