College  |  January 8, 2024  |  Arianna Blakely

Why you should take breaks

What you'll learn

  • Benefits of taking breaks
  • What a break can look like for you
  • Why you should take breaks in moderation

At the end of the year (and a million times during it), a break is so needed. It doesn’t matter if you’re in college, trade school, or anywhere in between. Everybody needs some time every now and then to relax and re-center to be their best selves. Some people think they don’t have time to unwind, or they just don’t want to. But whether it’s days off or even just a few minutes, here’s why and how you should take breaks.

Benefits of taking breaks 

As you can imagine, there are so many pros to taking breaks. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t be writing this. Take video games for example. When your character uses up a lot of energy running around, their energy bar gets depleted, and they need to slow down or stop moving altogether to get their energy back up—so they’re taking a break. Real people need them too.

When you’re spending a lot of your time focusing on a task, whether it’s studying for a big exam or meeting a deadline at your job, this takes up a lot of your energy. It’s important to take a step back and refresh to keep performing your best. Studies have shown that taking a five-minute to hour-long break can:

  • Help your body recharge
  • Boost your energy and productivity levels
  • Decrease your stressfootnote 1

Taking some time away from your work can also help get your creative juices flowing better, too. As a writer, stepping away from the pen to re-energize has helped me think up some of my best ideas. If you’re feeling stuck, it’s probably time for a break. When you return, you may be able to think more clearly.

Breaks can also improve your memory. If you’re consistently concentrating for a certain amount of time, then taking a break, you’re allowing yourself to better retain information and focus.footnote 2 Our lo-fi beats album, Sound Mind, includes 25 minutes of focused music and 5-minute break sessions to give your brain a rest. In case you need some help working some break time into your schedule, give it a listen.

What breaks can look like

Breaks can take shape in so many different ways, but they’re all about what you and your body need. Here are a few ways you can take a breakfootnote 3:

Get moving. Embrace nature and take a nice walk or jog. If you’re into yoga, take your mat outside to get some fresh air. If going outside isn’t in the cards for you, take a stretch break inside. Knock out a quick chore that you’ve been putting off. Anything that will make you move and get your blood pumping is a great way to take a break.

Get social. Hit up one of your friends or a family member for a quick chat. If you have a roommate, check in on them and see how they’re doing. Send a funny video to that long-distance friend we all seem to have. Taking some time to engage with your community can be a break done right.

Get relaxed. Who doesn’t like channeling their inner chill every once in a while? Spend some time doing a deep breathing exercise or a quick meditation. Enjoy a light snack or a calming, warm drink. Play some easy-going music, take a power nap, or anything else that’s serene and relaxing.

Get into your hobbies. When it’s crunch time, we have a habit of abandoning what we love for the sake of getting things done. Use your breaks as a way to keep your hobbies alive. Pick up that 800-page book you’ve been reading for what seems like all year long. Find those crochet needles and finish making that blanket you’ve been working on. Paint, bake, play video games—whatever it is that you’re into, give yourself time to do it on your break.

How long breaks should be

The length of your breaks is completely up to you. You might want to take a break for an hour—that’s totally fine. You might want to take 60 seconds to close your eyes, breathe, then get back to work—that works too. If you need help managing how long your breaks are, there are apps or the standard timer on your device that can help you determine when to start and stop.

If you don’t want to take a break, but you’re finding that focusing on one type of task is burning you out, try interleaving. Interleaving is when rather than taking a break, you switch gears and start a new task.footnote 4 For example, if you’re studying for calculus and your brain simply can’t compute any longer, switch over to studying for that English class and use a different part of your brain.

Social media breaks aren’t really breaks

I know it’s tempting to waste the day away on social media (guilty!), but screen time can have more negative effects than good ones. Scrolling through social media and the Internet as a whole can cause some mega stress for your prefrontal cortex (this is the part of the brain that controls your thoughts, actions, and emotions). Having to make decisions about which app to go to, which text to respond to, which photo to like or comment on—they may seem like small choices, but it sends your brain into decision overload.footnote 3 If sitting on your phone doesn’t make you happy or help you relax, put it on DND when it’s break time.

Moderation is key

Breaks can be super good for you, but everything is always best in moderation. Don’t focus on breaks too much to the point where you’re not getting anything else done. That can lead to a few problems:

Feeling unmotivated to get back to work. It can be hard to get back into the swing of things if your brain has fully departed “focus mode.”

Procrastination. This is something so many people are familiar with, but taking too many breaks or taking breaks that are too long can lead to you putting off your work for too long. This can turn into a worse habit of leaving work to do until the last minute, giving you unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Not having enough time. If you’re working on a deadline, your breaks could make you miss it—not every situation can grant you an extension, either. 

Take your time

Regardless of what you study, where you work, or what you do, everyone deserves a break to reconnect with themselves, calm down, and re-energize to keep doing what you’re doing and do it to the best of your ability. Without breaks, burnout is inevitable—you don’t have to get to that point. Listen to your mind and body and take breaks when you need them.

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footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote Sallie Mae, the Sallie Mae logo, and other Sallie Mae names and logos are service marks or registered service marks of Sallie Mae Bank. All other names and logos used are the trademarks or service marks of their respective owners.

footnote 1. https://health.cornell.edu/about/news/study-breaks-stress-busters

footnote 2. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/students/news/2020/feb/5-benefits-taking-breaks

footnote 3. https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/taking-breaks/

footnote 4. https://academicaffairs.arizona.edu/l2l-strategy-interleaving