Stress Management Management Techniques How to Take a Break from Work (and Why You Need To) By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Elizabeth Scott, PhD Twitter Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing. Learn about our editorial process Updated on March 31, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print ULTRA F / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Risks of Not Taking Breaks Signs You Need a Break Benefits How to Take a Break Frequently Asked Questions Taking a break from time to time is essential, and yet many people leave their vacation time unused. Whether you plan a vacation, a staycation, or a playcation, it's important to take a break from your job, your routine, and the demands of life in order to keep stress levels in check. When you take a break, you're not shirking responsibility. You're taking care of yourself so you'll have the stamina to be your best. By learning the signs that you need a break, you'll know when to schedule some time away to help you feel more refreshed and restored. This article explores the importance of taking a break, including what happens when you don't and some of the signs that you need to unwind. It also covers some of the different ways to take a break, whether it's just a short break or a longer vacation. Risks of Not Taking Breaks The body is designed to respond to short bursts of stress. When stress is prolonged and the stress response is triggered repeatedly and regularly—as can happen in a stressful job or a conflict-ridden relationship—the situation turns into one of chronic stress, and real health problems can set in. Chronic stress may make you more susceptible to conditions ranging from frequent headaches and gastrointestinal issues to high blood pressure, which brings an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. When your "allostatic load," or overall level of stress, accumulates to a certain level, stress can snowball because you're constantly in a state of reactivity. At this point, even positive events can feel overwhelming if they take energy to enjoy. You're not able to respond from a place of strength and wisdom, but rather from a place of anxiety, or you work on auto-pilot. Recap Extended periods of stress can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. Taking a break gives your brain and body a chance to reset, restore, and cope with the stresses of daily life. Management Techniques for Chronic Stress Signs That You Need to Take a Break Sometimes, it's obvious that you need a vacation. In other cases, stress can sneak up on you. You may not necessarily recognize when you're at risk of being overwhelmed and burned out. Everyone responds to stress in unique ways, which means that the signs of being overwhelmed are also highly individual. However, there are some general warning signs that apply in most cases. If you're experiencing one or more of the following, start planning some downtime. This might mean a real vacation or even just a weekend staycation to recharge your batteries. Key signs you need a break include: Changes in eating habits Cynicism about work Difficulty concentrating Getting sick more frequently Lack of energy Lack of motivation Low mood Frustration Feeling unfocused or fuzzy-headed Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches Poor performance at work Sleep disturbances Using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress Withdrawing from friends, family, or co-workers In fact, unless you already feel energized, motivated, excited, creative, and fully engaged at work and in your relationships, you'd likely benefit from a vacation, because it's a good idea to manage stress before it feels overwhelming. Vacations, mental health days, and regular self-care can keep you functioning at your best. "I think of these breaks as preventative care," says Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS, a licensed psychologist specializing in health and wellness. "We need to participate in them on a regular basis in order to be able to manage our stress and prevent burnout. The key is to prevent ourselves from getting to the point that we absolutely need the break." It's important to note that many of these signs may also be symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if these symptoms persist even after you take a break. Benefits of Taking a Break Vacations and even shorter breaks (like an afternoon off) where you get some physical and psychological space from the demands of life can bring many rewards. Some of the benefits you may enjoy when you take a break include: Reduced stress: Obviously, you feel less stress when you're not in a stressful environment. But breaks bring more than that. They interrupt the cycle of stress that can lead to being overwhelmed. Rest: By breaking out of the cycle of chronic stress, you can restore yourself physically and mentally to a healthier place. Clearer thinking: A chronically triggered stress response can lead to decreased creativity, memory problems, and other issues. So a break in the stress cycle can lead to sharper thinking and increased creativity in all areas of your life. Increased productivity: All of this can make you better at your job, more available in your relationships, more energetic with your family, and more able to enjoy life after you return. Recap Taking a break not only gives you a chance to rest, it can also promote clearer thinking and greater productivity. How to Take a Break If you need a break, there are several different options for getting one. You can go for a long and luxurious break, a relaxing and simple one, or something short and sweet. You can even have minutes-long breaks that you take throughout the day to boost productivity and to keep from feeling overwhelmed. Vacation A vacation is a real break, in the classic sense of the word, and taking a vacation is more important than many people realize. That's why many vacation days go unused when they should be enjoyed to the fullest. The key to a restful vacation is to prioritize rest and fun when you go; don't overbook yourself with tourist activities or bring so much work with you that by the time you return you feel you need a vacation from your vacation. Many people feel taking a break adds too much work in preparing to be away and then making up for the missed time. While it may take some effort, the health and well-being benefits you'll gain more than make up for those costs. How Vacations Can Affect Your Stress Levels Staycation The staycation is becoming more and more popular, especially as people have a greater need to take a break, but with fewer means to pull off a longer trip. The staycation is all about rest and relaxation, and enjoying home sweet home—a place you are often too stressed and busy to really enjoy. The key to a refreshing staycation is the same as the key to a restful vacation, though it can be somewhat trickier to pull off: Don't overdo it, and don't let work creep in. That means no cleaning, office work, or dealing with regular responsibilities. You can either turn off the phones, ignore email, and make it a point to both rest and play at home, or go to a nearby hotel to make it easier. Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS It's important to still put your 'out of office' up on your email and try to resist checking your email regularly. — Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS "You can still check your email occasionally, as this sometimes helps decrease stress and anxiety while 'on vacation,' but just because you are home on a staycation, does not mean you are supposed to work," says Dr. Goldman. How to Relax on Your Staycation Playcation Few people talk about having a playcation, but it's a great idea: Stay home, but make it fun! The difference between a staycation and a playcation is that staycations tend to focus more on resting and relaxing, while playcations are for—you guessed it—fun! With the hard work and stressful routines that characterize many people's lifestyles, it's important to have some fun as a way to recharge your batteries and be sure you're enjoying life. You can devote several days to taking a playcation, or just be sure you pepper in some fun on a regular basis. Short Breaks Sometimes you just need to take a break from stress long enough to disrupt the body's stress response cycle, and then get back into action. If you just need a quick break, take a hike or a bike ride, enjoy a movie, or even have a five-minute meditation session. Spending time outdoors and physical activity can also be great stress relievers. Incorporating these into your short break, such as going for a walk outside around the block, can help you get more bang for your buck from your short break. Recap Vacations can be a great way to take a break, but you don't need to leave town to unwind. Staycations and playcations are great (and often more affordable) options, but even brief intervals where you turn your mind and attention to more restful activities can be beneficial. When and How to Take a Mental Health Day A Word From Verywell Everyone needs a break from time to time in order to relieve stress. Even if you can't take a big vacation, a staycation or short break can be a valuable way to feel restored and refreshed. It is also essential to take short breaks periodically throughout the day in order to recharge your attention and productivity. Frequently Asked Questions How long should you work before taking a break? There are many factors that impact sustained attention, but research suggests that the average duration that a person is able to stay focused on a single task without experiencing declines in attention or productivity is around 30 to 45 minutes.A 2014 study performed by the productivity tracking company DeskTime found that the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break. When the study was repeated seven years later, the most productive people were working for 112 minutes before taking a break, an increase attributed to changes in work life due to the COVID-19 pandemic.A good rule is that a short break every hour or so can help you stay productive throughout the work day. How can you take a break from work when you are depressed? Taking a break when you are feeling depressed is often challenging because many of the things that used to bring you pleasure no longer create the same joy. One way to handle this is to spend your break periods engaging in self-care activities. Exercise, deep breathing, and meditation may be helpful for managing symptoms of depression.Spending 10 to 15 minutes on something like listening to music, writing in a gratitude journal, or enjoying a cup of your favorite tea are also great ways to take a break and practice self-care when you are feeling depressed. Learn More: 8 Tips for Living With Depression What should you do when you are taking a break from work? A break should be a true break from work—which means no checking emails or other work-related duties while you are on break. Finding a way to refresh your mind and body can help you return to your tasks with a clear mind, so getting up to stretch or going for a walk outside can be helpful. So can stopping to chat with co-workers. Research has found that workers who socialize at work are happier and healthier. The Growing Burden of "Reply ASAP" Culture 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers’ access to and use of leave from their jobs in 2017–18. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: New insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21 National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private industry workers received average of 15 paid vacation days after 5 years of service in 2017. Fortenbaugh FC, DeGutis J, Germine L, et al. Sustained attention across the life span in a sample of 10,000: Dissociating ability and strategy. Psychol Sci. 2015;26(9):1497-1510. doi:10.1177/0956797615594896 Gifford J. 52/17 updated - people are now working and breaking longer than ever before. DeskTime. Mastroianni K, Storberg-Walker J. Do work relationships matter? Characteristics of workplace interactions that enhance or detract from employee perceptions of well-being and health behaviors. Health Psychol Behav Med. 2014;2(1):798-819. doi:10.1080/21642850.2014.933343 By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Stress Management Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.