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The Power of Taking a Break

Here are six easy ways to find peace during the day.

When was the last time you gave your brain a break from the stress of everyday life? It turns out, daily mental time-outs are essential for your well-being—and every bit as important as your physical health. 

“Ignoring your mental health puts your overall health in jeopardy,” says Jeffery Dusek, PhD, chief research officer at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. That’s because whenever you experience a stressful event, the hormone cortisol courses through your body as part of the infamous “fight or flight” response.

That response is essential in that it allows you to respond to the situation. But if those stress hormones don’t have time to take a dip afterward, the negative consequences can pile up. Spend too much time on the edge of stress and your metabolism, sleep cycle,mmune system can suffer. Your risk of heart disease and inflammation can also go up.

Here’s some good news: Small counterpunches, in the form of mini time-outs, can keep your stress defenses strong. These time-outs don’t have to last long—change can happen within seconds. Ready to take your first mental break? Give one of these six ideas a try.

  1. Take a deep breath. As clichéd as this sounds, that deep breath (even just one) is not only relaxing, it can have a positive effect on your entire body, including your immune system.
  2. Step outside. “Nature has positive effects on your psychology and mental health,” says Dusek. One study found that people who walked in a forest had lower concentrations of cortisol compared to those who walked in an urban setting. Even if you don’t live near a forest, simply stepping outside can soothe your mind.
  3. Practice gratitude. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, jot down one or two things you’re grateful for. It doesn’t matter if it’s as simple as a cup of great coffee or something as important as your family. Frequently reflecting on what makes you grateful can help you find the silver lining in a tough day.
  4. Get up and move. Research shows that exercise is a mood enhancer, offering a buffer against life’s stresses, says Dusek. And it doesn’t have to be structured exercise, like going to a gym or taking an exercise class. Just walking for any length of time is beneficial.
  5. Hang out with a pet. Unless you’re allergic, petting a cat or dog might lower your body’s stress response. No pet at home? If you have the time, volunteer at a shelter or visit a friend’s pet.
  6. Give yourself a daily digital detox. If you’re constantly checking news, texts, emails, and social media on your digital devices, you’re not doing your mental health any favors. Studies show the very devices invented to make life easier have actually added to our stress loads. While it’s not realistic to break up with smart technology entirely, Dusek says to at least be aware of how much you’re using your devices during the day and schedule time away from them.
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