How ‘Microbreaks’ Can Enhance Your Workday—And Help You Avoid Burnout
Allow yourself to slack off for a moment—it will be beneficial to your health.
Most of us need breaks during the workday to stay focused and maintain the energy required to get through the day. A new study confirms that so-called “microbreaks” are essential for your overall health and ability to feel good throughout the workday.
According to the study, which was published in PLOS One, taking short breaks helps workers have more energy and less fatigue. But that isn’t all. The research also discovered that not all breaks are created equal. People generally feel better when they take the right kind of microbreaks.
The researchers concluded, “Overall, the data support the role of microbreaks in well-being.” “However, recovering from highly depleting tasks may necessitate more than 10-minute breaks for performance.”
In general, microbreaks can benefit your health when taken throughout the workday, and longer breaks maybe even better if you’re working on particularly taxing tasks.
“The automation and digitization of work that we all live, the constant connection to information, at any time and from any place, have changed the way we relate to work and put a lot of pressure on employees,” said study co-author Irina Macsinga, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Romania’s West University of Timișoara. “However, one aspect remains constant: we all want to feel energized and perform well at work.”
Macsinga stated that her research aimed to determine what factors would contribute to this. Take a closer look.
What Are ‘Microbreaks,’ and Why Are They Beneficial?
Microbreaks are short breaks of up to ten minutes. According to Macsinga, microbreaks are “breaks that people take on a voluntary basis, when they feel they need it, in order to replenish their energy,” and they are also “informal, unscheduled, and non-structured.” In other words, you call the shots regarding when these breaks occur and can do whatever you want during them.
The study, which included analyzing data from 22 separate studies conducted over the past 30 years, did not specifically investigate why microbreaks are beneficial—it simply discovered that they are.
“Microbreaks are indeed effective in maintaining high levels of vigor—to be vigorous means to have higher levels of vitality and enthusiasm, to feel active and energetic,” Macsinga said. Employees who are energetic are also more willing to put in the time and effort required to complete a task, even when things get difficult, according to Macsinga.
Microbreaks are beneficial to both the mind and the body, according to Lily Brown, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety.
“Powering through leaves us vulnerable to poor physical health—due to not adequately attending to our bodily needs or spending time hunched over—and emotional health—due to not giving our brains time to adjust to changing demands or not allowing ourselves time to process difficult news or frustrating interactions,” Brown explained.
Furthermore, according to licensed clinical psychologist Jaime Zuckerman, PsyD, your brain isn’t designed to work hard at the same task for extended periods of time. “While performing mundane and routine tasks, our minds tend to wander, making it difficult to remain present-focused,” Zuckerman explained. “Microbreaks are a great way to refocus our attention on the task at hand and bring us back to the present.”
What Activities Constitute a ‘Microbreak’?
There is a lot of leeway in what you do during microbreaks, but one of the most important factors for getting the most out of them is that they are unstructured and on your terms. According to Macsinga, this can include stretching exercises, getting some fresh air, or messing around on your phone.
The study discovered that taking breaks that were unrelated to your job had the greatest impact. If you tend to sit on your butt during the workday, this could mean going for a quick walk or watching a short video on your phone. Taking microbreaks that are still related to work, such as checking your work email or getting up to talk to a coworker about a project you’re both working on, is not beneficial.
But, aside from you calling the shots and taking unrelated breaks, it’s difficult to say whether one activity is superior to another with microbreaks. “Overall, taking short breaks appears to help, but whether there are specific activities that are more useful than others is a question that needs to be answered in our future research,” Macsinga said.
Who Stands to Gain From ‘Microbreaks’?
The study did not investigate which types of workers benefit the most from microbreaks. Nonetheless, “it would be safe to assume that, at the very least, these breaks don’t hurt unless someone has a hard time with the discipline to get back into work after the short break,” Brown said.
As a result, microbreaks very likely help most of us, Brown added. However, if you find yourself falling into a rabbit hole of Instagram scrolling if you pick up your phone during the workday, you may need to find a different type of microbreak activity.
Galligher concurs. “Microbreaks can be beneficial regardless of profession,” she says. “Everyone requires and deserves breaks throughout the workday.”
Finally, there is no data on how frequently microbreaks should be taken to reap the benefits, but Macsinga believes it is simply a good idea to take a break whenever you feel the need.
“There is no universal formula,” Macsinga said, “but we must pay attention to our own bodies and their needs.” “With time, we’ll figure out what the pattern is and act accordingly.”
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