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Taking mini breaks at work

Making time for short breaks at work could make all the difference to your day. Heavy workloads, tight deadlines and long hours sat at a desk, not only affect your mental capacity and performance but your physical health too. Taking small amounts of time out from your work can help both your mind and body to relax and recover.

We explain how breaks can help prevent a range of health conditions, as well as simple tips to make the most of your breaks.

Image of man working at desk


  • Eye health Eye health

    If you have a computer-based job, you could well be spending the best part of you day staring at a screen. Using a computer or laptop for too long can cause eyestrain, headaches and even blurred vision. This is known as computer vision syndrome. And not something you want day in, day out at the office.

    As well as making sure you’re using devices at the correct distance, be sure to give your eyes regular breaks. One study found that breaks reduce discomfort and eyestrain, without affecting how productive you are at work. Practice the following to help keep computer vision syndrome at bay.

    • Rest your eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous computer use. Get away from your desk or go for a walk. Don’t be tempted to use your phone or tablet on your breaks as you won’t be giving your eyes a well needed rest.
    • For every 20 minutes of using your computer, look away into the distance for 20 seconds to allow your eyes to refocus.
    • Make an effort to blink frequently to keep the front surface of your eyes moist. It’s not something you consciously think of doing. But concentrating hard on a piece of work may mean you blink less and your eyes will become dry.

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  • Ease the tension Ease the tension

    Sitting in the same position for a long time at work can leave you feeling tense and achy. If you work at a computer, tension across your back, neck, shoulders and arms is common.

    Shrug it off and use your breaks to get moving and do some stretches. The upper back stretch is particularly helpful. Cross your arms and raise your hands to rest on the front of your shoulders. Then using your arms, push your shoulders back, keeping your elbows down. Hold this position for 15 seconds and then repeat three times.

    To help ease tension throughout the day, follow our top three tips.

    • Break up long spells of work on a computer, or if you do a job where you’re in the same position for a long time.
    • Take five to 10 minute breaks every hour if possible.
    • Use your breaks to get moving. Go for a walk or to the gym on your lunch break, and have ‘mini’ walks and stretches regularly throughout the day.

    Neck stretching exercises

  • Staying alert Staying alert

    How often do you find that you can’t concentrate on your work? Or even start to drift off at your desk? As well as relieving strain on your eyes and muscles, taking short breaks throughout the day can help you stay alert and on the ball.

    Working long hours can lead to fatigue (extreme tiredness). Research has identified different types of fatigue. These include:

    • sensory fatigue, for example, from looking at a computer screen for hours on end
    • cognitive fatigue, which can affect your alertness to the task at hand
    • intellectual fatigue, which can affect skills such as problem solving
    • physiological fatigue, such as tired muscles

    Make sure you take sufficient mini breaks throughout the day to combat any fatigue. Rest breaks can help improve your productivity and performance, as well as your concentration levels, alertness and how fast you work.

    There are times when your body will let you know it’s time to take a break. This is because your body follows a pattern called ultradian rhythms. These are cycles where the energy levels in your body slowly decline over 90 to 120 minutes. At the end of the cycle, your body needs time to recover. And this is a perfect time to take a break. Signs that you’re reaching the end of the cycle include:

    • difficulty concentrating
    • feeling hungry
    • feeling tired and yawning
    • feeling restless

    Remember, the productivity you gain from regular breaks will more than make up for the time you spend taking some time out.

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  • Release the stress Release the stress

    A certain amount of pressure at work can be a positive thing. However, if you feel you’re unable to cope with your workload, you can become stressed. Stress can cause illness, so it’s important you address it.

    Mini breaks at work can help lower stress. They give you time to unwind and recover away from your work tasks. Try taking a short break between tasks. These can be particularly effective, helping you feel like you've successfully wrapped up one task before moving on to the next.

    Learning some office relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, can also help you de-stress. Your breaks are a great time to try these, leaving you feeling refreshed and more relaxed when you return to your tasks.

  • And break... And break...

    Here are our golden rules when it comes to having breaks at work.

    • Take a five to 10 minute break every hour if possible.
    • You’re entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes if you work more than six hours at a time.
    • Make full and good use of your lunch hour.
    • The quality of your break is more important than how long it is. Make sure you focus your attention on something else to give you a break from the work you’re doing. Even a few minutes can do you wonders.

    So, next time you’re feeling stressed, tired or unable to concentrate at your desk, take a break. Even getting up to make a cup of tea or talking to a colleague for a few minutes can do you the world of good. Your health in the workplace is equally as important as your health outside of work, and mini breaks play an important role in this.

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    Produced by Alice Rossiter, Bupa Health Information Team, May 2014.

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