Here’s How To Take an Effective Mini Mental Health Break During the Work Day—So You Can Feel More Focused and Less Stressed

Phot: Stocksy/Irina Efremova
We see you, and we know you deserve a break. Maybe you work from home where it’s not as challenging to find some time for yourself as it once was in an office, yet you stay glued to your screen out of habit or obligation or inertia. Or maybe you work a shift job where you have to be constantly helping customers or are always on the move, and your only downtime is during designated lunch or other mandated clocking out times.

Whatever your situation is, we have a tool to add to your arsenal that we promise is worth it: The mini mental health break.

Research has shown that taking breaks at work can reduce stress and improve cognition. And Jay Shetty, a former monk, author, and chief purpose officer at Calm—which is rated the number one app for sleep, meditation, and relaxation—says you can even get those benefits out of a mini break. He says you only need one to five minutes to lower your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, bring down your heart rate, and calm your mind.

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“Even what seems like a very short amount of time can have a big impact on your mind, emotions, and nervous system,” Shetty says. “Our mind is moving faster than our body with worries, anxieties, or other intrusive thoughts that cause stress. So when we take time to be present, even for 60 seconds, to connect the body and breath through meditation or mindful movement, we end up feeling more centered.”

And yes, a midday recess really can be that short. But how can you implement an effective, rejuvenating mini break? Taking those few minutes for yourself does not mean staring at Instagram or hiding in the bathroom (which one in three 18- to 34-year-olds admit to doing, according to Calm). With a short amount of time, you have to be intentional.

First things first: Step away from your to-do list

Before we get to how you spend those mini breaks, it’s important you actually make them happen. And if this seems like a big ask, cut yourself, well, a break.

“While a bit surprising, taking breaks at work is not intuitive!” Shetty says. “If you’re confused or timid about doing so, rest assured that you’re not alone. We haven’t been trained on when to take breaks or how to do them, so most people just skip altogether and take their stress into the next task or meeting.”

Shetty stresses that figuring out when and how to take a break is all about finding what works for you, but he has some tricks up his sleeve. Some tools he recommends:

  • Scheduling breaks on your calendar
  • Using “reclaimed” time when meetings end early
  • “Habit stacking” one- to five-minute breaks along with other things you’re doing anyway. (For example, every time you finish checking your email, stack on that mini break.)

“You can get creative with how to incorporate breaks into your workday and notice which activities most invite relaxation and a mental reset,” Shetty says. “Remember that a short break is better than no break at all.”

Of course, Shetty acknowledges the role that employers play in creating an environment where employees actually can take breaks. When some warehouse workers barely have time to make it to the bathroom and back, putting the mental health onus on the employee is insulting. But hopefully for people in these demanding jobs, making use of the time you do have off with intentionality can help you get through the day with a clearer head.

“Think of taking breaks at work as a reset for the mind, body, and emotional state,” Shetty says. “Doing so can reduce stress, which can make us feel less irritable and boosts our mood so that we feel happier and more focused when we do eventually return to work.”

What to do on your mini mental health break

The clock is ticking on your mini vacay, but don't let that be an additional source of stress. Having a plan for what to do in those moments will help you make the most of them. Calm has a series of short mini meditations meant to be done at work. But Shetty also recommends following the “three Ws”: Walk, Water, and Window.

Move your body

The first of the “three Ws,” walking is incredibly beneficial for your mental and physical health overall, but can also be a great way to spend a mini break.

“Moving the body, even for a gentle stroll, has so many stress-reducing benefits,” Shetty says. Focusing on the act of walking can help take your mind off stressors, and moving can stimulate blood flow, which delivers more oxygen to the brain and makes you more alert.


The second W stands for water, so head on over to that water cooler.

“Drinking enough water is another important habit to weave into your break-taking,” Shetty says. He points out that drinking five cups of water per day has been shown to lower the risk of anxiety and depression, while drinking less than two cups per day can actually increase your risk. "Keep a glass or water bottle on your desk, and keep refilling to stay hydrated throughout the day.”

Rest your eyes

W number three refers to “window,” which has a double meaning: Both adjusting what you’re actually looking at, and taking a moment to reconnect with nature, or just the outside world.

“Leave the screens behind and find a window to sit by and look out into the distance,” Shetty says. “When looking at the horizon you reduce eye strain and pain which is caused by looking at screens all day. Bonus points if the window is open so that you can enjoy some fresh air.”


Again, what you choose to do during your breaks is personal. So whether you’ve got 60 seconds or 60 minutes, be intentional and see what is most rejuvenating for you.

“You can get creative with how to incorporate breaks into your workday and notice which activities most invite relaxation and a mental reset,” Shetty says. “Remember that a short break is better than no break at all.”

Got a little more time to spare? Check out this 10-minute lunch break stretch session that targets your sitting and standing muscles.

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