Woman enjoying stretching arms in sauna
May 04, 2023

The One Thing You Can Do Every Day to Lower Your Stress Levels

Mental Health, Longevity

Taking small breaks throughout the day isn’t lazy, it’s self-care that can protect your mental health. Plus, you’ll be more productive during the day than you would be if you simply churned through it.

Time-outs aren’t just for kids. In fact, it can be argued that adults need a break (even if we didn’t just throw a tantrum) more as we age. With the pressures of a career, family responsibilities, and so much more, the average adult’s workload can feel like it’s growing by the year. Yet, research published in the Journal of Business and Psychology1 has discovered that the average adult is less likely to take a break during the day, even if they know doing so can have a direct link to improving their performance and well-being.

Take a look at what some of the common threads are that researchers found when it comes to the reasons people need breaks throughout the day, even if they resist them. Then, learn how to give yourself some mental health breaks periodically to reduce stress and improve your emotional, mental, and physical health in the process.  

Woman stressed in her office
Fatigue wins when it comes to needing a break

The researchers of this study1 found that 45% of the subjects they questioned reported fatigue as the number-one reason they needed a break during the day. This fatigue encompassed a heavy workload (particularly if their sleep quality was not the best), which led to brain fog and the need for mental clarity. Runner-up reasons included physiological needs (feeling hungry or needing to use the restroom) and performance concerns – stepping away from their desk for a brain break before continuing the task at hand.   

A desire to detach is a sign that it’s time to take a break

Approximately 18% of study participants said they knew they needed a break when they felt the desire to detach – whether it was from their workload or environment (such as nosy coworkers or demanding supervisors). While some of this urge is linked to fatigue, the researchers found concerns about the quality of a worker’s performance pushed them to physically get up and walk away from their desk or workplace and take a break.   

How adults respond to workday stress

The researchers of this study make an important point that shines a light on how individuals may approach stress. Some people may get stressed during the day (feeling that desire to detach or get fatigued), which forces them to take a break. Others, however, may get stressed and because of that, “power through” their day, possibly afraid to take a break and leave work on the table at the end of the day. After all, a heavy workload means there is more work to get done. 

No matter which category you may fall into (or perhaps you’re a little bit of both depending on the day), it’s important to recognize how you respond to stress. When you do feel stressed, make sure you’re taking advantage of the time you give yourself to take a break or are able to self-regulate to push yourself to take a break instead of working through it. Failing to do so leaves you at risk of burnout2, on top of being less efficient in your day.

How to make time for micro-breaks
Woman enjoying the outside

There’s been numerous research studies on the benefits of micro-breaks – smaller breaks more frequently throughout the day in order to boost productivity and well-being3, even if you’re already fatigued. After about an hour and a half to two hours of work, give yourself 15 to 20 minutes to do the following:

Stretch: Try a 10-minute yoga sequence or simply spend time stretching out your upper body, which may be hunched over at a desk most of the day.

Take a walk: Bonus points if you can do it outside, as vitamin D exposure can have a direct link to your mood and mental state4.

Sit in an infrared sauna: For those who work from home or have access to a fitness center with a sauna, taking a break in a sauna can lessen the physical and mental impacts of stress. Infrared light in particular helps to balance cortisol and relieve tension throughout the body, helping you feel better inside and out.

The workplace has gotten more relaxed in some instances (i.e., many of us do it at home in our sweatpants), but it’s also imposed an “around-the-clock” mentality for some. Whether you work in an office, at home, or a mix of both, taking a break in any environment will lower your stress levels, making you more efficient and able to handle the demands of your day.


1 Phan, V., Beck, J.W. Why Do People (Not) Take Breaks? An Investigation of Individuals’ Reasons for Taking and for Not Taking Breaks at Work. J Bus Psychol 38, 259–282 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-022-09866-4

2 Bakker, Arnold B et al. “Job resources buffer the impact of job demands on burnout.” Journal of occupational health psychology vol. 10,2 (2005): 170-80. doi:10.1037/1076-8998.10.2.170

3 Kim, S., Cho, S., & Park, Y. (2022). Daily microbreaks in a self-regulatory resources lens: Perceived health climate as a contextual moderator via microbreak autonomy. Journal of Applied Psychology, 107(1), 60–77. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000891

4 Penckofer S, Kouba J, Byrn M, Estwing Ferrans C. Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine? Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010 Jun;31(6):385-93. doi: 10.3109/01612840903437657. PMID: 20450340; PMCID: PMC2908269.

profile picture

WRITTEN BY: Colleen Travers

Colleen Travers is a health and wellness freelance writer focusing on all things that make you feel healthy and happy from the inside out.  She's been an editor for sites such as FitnessMagazine.com and DoctorOz.com Her work has appeared online in outlets like Reader's Digest, SHAPE, HuffPost Life, Peloton, Fitbit, MindBodyGreen, and more.