Adults Need a "Brain Break" Too

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes... including you.”

~ Anne Lamott

Could you imagine what 3 to 4-year olds would be like at the end of a school day if they did not get a break? Imagine picking up your child and he or she did not have nap time, recess, snack time or—God forbid—lunch. How would they behave? I’ll tell you how. You would have a whole bunch of cranky kids in full-blown temper tantrums, and a teacher tied up by the end of the day.

Wouldn’t you be mortified if your child did not have those energy releases (i.e. recess) and energy refreshers (i.e. naps and lunch)? Well, adults need the same thing. Am I comparing children and adults?


We like to mark a significant change in the way we behave once we’re adults. Of course, there are obvious differences between children and adults; however, growth, development, and work, all require the use of those same cognitive faculties that ultimately need breaks. Take a pre-school classroom and change it out for an office space. Now, imagine if everyone in the office did not have breakfast, coffee or tea, a break (maybe two), cigarette stop, lunch, or even a snack-size box of raisins. Adult-sized temper tantrums.

Photo by Chris Benson

When students are distracted, tired, and antsy, or even before then, we give them what are called “brain breaks.” During “brain breaks” we allow them to focus on creative activities, do fun exercises, meditate, or something of the like. Their minds are taken off their academic tasks. They release energy, refresh their minds, and regroup in preparation to complete or start their tasks.

Surprisingly, the one thing we were encouraged to have while kids, we get less of and sometimes ward off the older we get. After Kindergarten, there are no more nap times. After elementary school no more snack time or recess. Come high school breaks are scarce. College? Forget it. You’re falling asleep in class. Enter later into that 9 to 5 and you may be like me— wishing you could just pull a cot out at the office and go to sleep.

Photo by The Creative Exchange

Working non-stop can be precarious. And yes, being a work-a-holic can, indeed, kill you (sorry for getting morbid). Mental exhaustion is not as easily recognizable as physical exhaustion. It has become common nature for many adults to press beyond their physical fatigue further than they would physical fatigue (guilty here too.) If a runner’s leg cramps up on them, undoubtedly, they will take a break. Meanwhile, in the office, if you have a headache or feel the afternoon heavy, take some Aleve or get a fifth cup of coffee and keep it moving. What you really should have done, though, is taken a break.

Working and learning are both mentally draining. Nothing goes in (in regards to learning) or out (produced with work) if our cognitive faculties are depleted. Even if you feel breaks are unwarranted, they are crucial to productivity, creative passion, and health. So even if you are not a full-time employee, work a regular 8-hour workday, you can still benefit from taking a break.

Photo by Sarah Swinton

Getting and Staying Productive