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Manage work stress with breaks

Does taking a break at work make you feel guilty? It may be because you think it’s a choice between productivity and de-stressing. You’ve committed this time to delivering work to your employer, so taking some personal time for yourself during work hours is bad, right? Wrong. Research shows that taking regular mental breaks throughout the day actually improves productivity and creativity—and that skipping breaks and plowing through your work can leave you exhausted and stressed.

Today’s employees are expected to do more work for the same pay, so it’s no wonder jobs are a major source of stress for Americans. According to a study from the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, 40 percent of workers think their jobs are very or extremely stressful, and 25 percent say their jobs are the number-one stressor in their lives. The pressure to always be available with your smartphone in hand, relationships with coworkers or your boss, or feeling overwhelmed by rising expectations in a new role are also stressful.

But while you may feel like working longer is the answer to being successful at work, it’s often not.

Science shows that prolonged periods of concentration fatigue your brain, and giving it downtime restores your ability to concentrate and problem solve.

If you get easily frustrated when you’re working on something that usually comes easy to you, it could be a signal that it’s time to slow down. Trouble concentrating on any one particular task or a sudden onset of sleepiness are other signs that you need to recharge.

You may even notice you’ve lost your passion for your career, or objectively aren’t performing at the same level you were before. “A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress,” David Ballard, director of the Center for Organizational Excellence and Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program at the American Psychological Association told LearnVest.

Before stress hurts your productivity or health, there are exercises that you can use to strip away the stress that builds up over time. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques offer another option besides spinning in a cycle of anxiety and wearing down to depression.

Give yourself a few minutes of quiet before work

Before you open the door and head into your job, find two to five minutes of quiet solitude. This could be sitting in your car in your office’s parking lot and doing a deep breathing exercise or plugging in ear buds on your commute and listening to music. It could be anything. It’s just important to pause for a few moments to embrace your world and notice the sights and smells around you before you tackle any possible stress. Try out a few things to see what’s makes you feel the most aligned before work.

Schedule mental breaks in your calendar

One of the best ways to stay productive is to manage your day with time blocking, or setting aside specific chunks of time for different tasks. Treat mental breaks the same way and schedule time in your calendar for lunch, a walk, to stand at your desk and do stretches, or take a trip to the gym. Scheduling this time with yourself in your calendar will make it easier to get out of the guilty mindset that you don’t have time to take breaks.

Get physical for major mental benefits

Stand up and grab your water bottle. By standing up every hour you’ll reduce your risk for diabetes and stroke, and clear your mind to be more productive. Take the long route to refill your water bottle, so that it takes at least 5 minutes.

Pack some comfortable shoes and go for a walk. Spending 20 to 25 minutes walking a day has been proven to not only de-clutter the cobwebs in your brain and boost enthusiasm, but will also reset your pathways for good health inside and out. Make sure to leave your cell phone off or at the office to get the biggest benefit from your stroll around the block. To practice mindfulness during your walk, notice what’s around you. Smell the day and feel the weather on your face. You’ll return to the office refreshed and ready to do better work than if you had kept your eyes on your computer screen.

If you’ve noticed you can’t concentrate, are increasingly critical at work and annoyed with your coworkers, or feel guilty about not working long hours or on the weekends, you may have chronic work stress. Take our free assessment to find out where your current anxiety levels stand and get suggestions for reducing job stress.