Why a Rest Break?
The U.S. Department of Labor highlights that there are currently eight states that have chosen to govern the rules of paid rest period requirements. For example, the State of California mandates a paid 10-minute break for each four hours of work. In Illinois, hotel room workers are entitled to two paid 15-minute rest periods. The philosophy behind these workplace breaks is to offer reasonable time for rest, relaxation and also food intake as well as “health and hygiene" of fulltime workers.
Yet, are you making the most of your allotted break time? Do you fritter it away by staying at your desk and finishing your work? Are you fitting in a quick energy bar while on hold with a supplier? These counterproductive behaviors do not result in higher productivity but rather rob you of the opportunity to recharge. So what should you do in your 10-minute break?
1. Deep Breathing
Temple College explains that in times of intentional relaxation, “the body repairs its tissues, refills cellular energy and nutrient stores, and prepares the tissues for the next ‘stress’ period." One of the easiest ways to reach this healing repose is through deep belly breathing. It is possible to use deep breathing techniques while seated at a desk, reclining on a comfortable break room sofa or while seated in the car. The recommended length of time for this activity is 10 minutes.
2. Intentional Muscle Relaxation
Combine muscle relaxation with deep breathing techniques or perform them as stand-alone meditative exercises. The goal is to force individual muscle groups to relax by focusing on having them tense and then making them loosen up. You may be surprised to find out that some muscles are already tensed when you get started.
3. Mind Expansion
Keep a clip file of interesting articles you would love to read but generally do not get the chance to. These could be parenting articles, the latest blog entry by your favorite pet blogger or an interesting astronomy article that highlights science news from outer space. The trick is to find something that genuinely interests you; in other words, do not read an industry manual or job-related pamphlet.
4. Friendship Maintenance
Compose and send a thoughtful email or postcard to a friend or family member. Connect with your emotions and let your writing flow. Even if you do not send the missive, it goes a long way to letting your emotions get a bit of a workout — especially if you are angry, frustrated or sad. There is nothing wrong with using the 10-minute work break to relieve work as well as personal stress.
5. Stretching Exercises
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety explains that stretching at the workstation is actually a key element for the prevention of muscles pains and also strains that occur while working. Computer workers in particular are guilty of staying in the same position for prolonged periods of time. Hand, forearm and shoulder stretches can be done right at the desk.
6. Walk for Fitness and Sanity
If you rarely make it into a gym, consider using the 10-minute break as a walking opportunity. Walk around the building, down the block or run a few flights of stairs up and down in the office building. Get the heart pumping and the mind off the workday stress.
Enjoy an apple or a small bag of trail mix. Stay away from fatty chips and empty calories. In the same vein, avoid typically unpalatable diet foods, such as dry rice cakes or celery sticks (unless you really like them). The goal is to feel rewarded by the snack and enjoy it, not make it a chore to eat healthy.
8. Fit in a Puppy Break
If your dog is your best friend — or at least a valued member of your household — look at its picture. If you keep video clips of its antics on your iPhone, watch some videos of the dog’s running and playing. Do not worry if you are more of a cat person, you can go ahead and check in with that feline love of your life during your break as well.
9. Dance! (or Jog)
Put on your headphones and dance to your favorite tunes. The exercise will do you good and listening to a couple of favorite songs is sure to improve your mood. If doing this in the office, it helps if you are naturally extroverted. Another option is to put on the headphones and go for a walk. A good beat might inspire you to jog a little.
10. Make Gratitude an Attitude
Stress is sometimes simply a lack of perspective. Take your 10 minutes and leave the office or work station; take a walk or gaze out the window. Make a mental list of the things for which you are grateful. If you are particularly frustrated with a coworker or supervisor, think about their positive qualities for which you might be grateful. While this may take some digging in extreme cases, it is a useful exercise to help you gain perspective against the backdrop of temporary frustrations.
Perhaps the biggest mistake any worker can make is to adopt a Type A personality stance and look for something productive to do during break time. Even though career coaches and personal developers will urge you to take this time for filing, desk organization or catching up on an overflowing inbox, none of these tasks actually contribute to true stress relief or relaxation.
- U.S. Department of Labor; http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/rest.htm
- Temple College; http://www.templejc.edu/dept/biology/RHicks/biol2404Int/biol2404onl_Relax.htm
- Photo Credit: “Bathrobe Cabal" by Beao/Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety; http://www.ccohs.org/oshanswers/ergonomics/office/stretching.html