50 Things To Do When You Need a Break

We all have those days: the work seems to be piling up at work, there’s lots of daunting tasks waiting for you at home, this fell apart, etc. Things just aren’t going your way, you’re feeling stressed out, overworked and on-edge.

Sound familiar? Well, take some time – five minutes, ten, an hour – and try completing one of the following suggestions to give yourself a break from the everyday stressors.

If you try any of these – or have suggestions of your own – why not leave a tip in the comments and let me know?

  1. Make a list. Or multiple lists. It’s bound to help clear your head, especially if you’ve got a number of tasks that need to be taken care of. List everything that needs to be done today, this week, this month, this year. Break it down.
  2. Paint something. Or sculpt, draw, color, etc. Use an artistic medium to  express whatever you’re feeling – happiness, stress, worry, love.
  3. Get a haircut. It sounds weird, right? But if you’re feeling stressed and out of control, a haircut is a great way to take back control and make a quick change that can totally switch things up!
  4. Clean. Clean your desk, your bag, your bedroom, a drawer, a table. Clean something. It’ll force your mind to focus on one task at a time, keep your hands busy and you’ll feel better (and less cluttered!) after.
  5. Try a dictionary. Take five minutes of your day & learn a few new words. Flip to a random page of the dictionary and find a word you don’t know. Learn it. Do it four more times, and just like that, you’ve added five new terms to your vocabulary. You’ve also given your mind something to focus on rather than whatever you’re dealing with in your life.
  6. Take a shower. Yes, this is something we do normally anyways, and it’s probably the most cliched thing ever, but a shower is a great way to clear your head and focus on one thing at a time.
  7. MeditateThis can take as little or as much time as you want. Check out some breathing exercises online, listen to the silence or listen to music if you prefer that. Either way, just take a bit of time and focus on nothing. Breathe, focus, calm.
  8. Plan a vacation. You don’t even have to actually go on the vacation – just plan it. Pick a place, anywhere. Check out flights, hotels, tourist attractions. Take a half hour or hour of your day and completely absorb yourself in planning this (possibly fictional) vacation. It’ll help you take your mind off things and ‘get away’… even if only in planning.
  9. Volunteer. Alright, so this will take a little planning, but get out there and do something to help the community! So many places could use volunteers, whether it’s an animal shelter, a library, community service group, tutoring after-school kids, cleaning up a local beach, etc. Call around or look for opportunities in local newspapers. You’ll be giving back to the community AND giving yourself a break at the same time.
  10. Go for a walk. Walk around the block, walk to the grocery store, walk to the post office, or just walk aimlessly around your neighborhood. Take a pedometer with you & keep track of how far you go. Listen to music while you walk, or go the silent route and let the sounds of nature – or industry – envelope you. Enjoy the fresh air and exercise, and when you get home, check the pedometer & see how far you’ve gone to get a little sense of accomplishment.
  11. Run. Alright, if you’re anything like me…. this isn’t really an option. I get out of breath when I run even half a mile, so I’m nowhere near running any marathons. But if you can do it – go for it. Run a mile, run three miles. Run to somewhere, or run from your problems (but make sure you come home eventually.)
  12. Bucket list. This could be an ongoing project, but start it one day if you’re feeling like you need a break. Write down some things you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime, such as ‘travel to Europe,’ ‘get a new car,’ etc. Make them things that are in your control. Add to the list whenever you feel like it or think of something new. Cross things off when you accomplish them. Here’s my list.
  13. Take a virtual vacation with Google. We all know about Google Street View, but have you ever used it for a little virtual vacation? Think about it – you can literally pick almost any spot in the entire world, and virtually walk through the streets. An ocean view, checking out the Eiffel Tower, walking through NYC… anything is possible, right from your desk. Take a five-minute break, or even an hour, and ‘go’ somewhere new.
  14. The three-word exercise. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write  down three words that describe how you’re feeling right now. Then write three words about the weather, and three words about what you’re wearing. Three words about where you are right now, then three about your favorite food. Three more words about how you’re feeling. Done.
  15. Write out your shortcomings. This is a common therapeutic exercise that might sound lame, but is actually pretty helpful. Write out a list of your shortcomings. You’re shy, you don’t listen, you’ve gained weight, you yell, you… whatever. Make the list. Read it over, then tear it up and throw it away. You can overcome your shortcomings, and they don’t have to define you.
  16. Make a list of good characteristics. This one’s a lot harder than #15 – but don’t worry, no one else will see this list. Boast as much as you want. Honk your own horn, so to speak. Write a list of your accomplishments, the things you do well, compliments for yourself. Keep the list in your wallet, at your desk, by your bed, wherever you can keep it handy for the next time you feel down on yourself.
  17. Write about your best friend. You don’t have to publish it anywhere. Send an email to yourself or write it down physically, but write at least 200 words about your best friend: who they are, how you met, things you’ve done together, why you like them. You don’t have to let them see it or even let them know you’ve done it, but it’ll remind you of why you appreciate them and how much they appreciate you, and remind you that you’re never alone.
  18. Step away from technology. While technology (and social media and related items) are absolutely great, sometimes they’re more trouble than they’re worth and add a lot of stress to our daily lives. If it’s possible (ie., you don’t have some pressing emergency), turn off your phone for a while. An hour, a day, whatever. Turn it off, leave it home. Stay off social media. Take a break from technology and give yourself a chance to clear your head.
  19. Take yourself to lunch. Or dinner, or breakfast. Not to a fast-food joint, but to a legitimate, nice, sit-down restaurant. Will you feel like a total loser? Maybe. Will you get some weird looks? Maybe. Will people think you got stood up by a date? WHO CARES. Treat yourself to a meal out and enjoy it.
  20. Get educated on current events. A great way to do this is to read your local newspaper. Realistically, you probably don’t have time to read the entire thing, front to back. But at least skim the local news section, read a few of the articles & get educated on what’s going on in your neighborhood – whether it’s local events, environmental issues, community initiatives… it’s good to know what’s going on, and it’ll give you a break from what’s going on in your life to focus on the bigger picture around you.
  21. Use the Internet to have a laugh. While I won’t endorse laughing at other’s expense, let’s face it – there are plenty of websites designed just to give us a good chuckle. From Awkward Family Photos to People of Walmart, spending even just five minutes on a site like that can give you a good laugh and make you feel better about your life.
  22. Free write. Turn off your phone & all electronic distractions. Take a piece of paper and a pen, and set a timer for 30 minutes. Now start, and write. Anything and everything: lists, poems, words, thoughts, names. Things you want to do, things you’ve done. Dreams, hopes, regrets. Write a story, write your history, write about that great sandwich you had for lunch. Don’t stop writing – you have to keep going for 30 minutes. Let your creativity flow. Write in English, Spanish, twenty languages. Write in Morse code if you want to. Write in straight lines or a circle or a pattern. Make blocks of writing. Point is, write something, anything, non-stop for 30 minutes.
  23. Write about someone you love. This might be similar to #17, but trust me – it’s not exactly the same. Think of someone you love – however you define that word. It could be a spouse, or a family member, or even a celebrity that doesn’t know you exist. It might be your best friend, it might be an ex-flame. It could be romantic love or just a passion that ensures you that they belong in your life, and you have strong feelings about them. Now write about them. What attracts you to them? How do you feel about them? How did you meet them? Have your feelings about them changed or evolved over time? (I guarantee they have.) Write about it – you can always rip it up when you’re done.
  24. Check out ThoughtCatalog. It’s a great website with a lot of information on it – some of it humorous, some of it informational, some of it downright pointless. But it’s a good way to take a break from everything and get out of your own head.
  25. Change your diet, even if temporarily. Even if it’s only for a day, or a week. Try eating healthier. Try veganism. Try a one-day cleanse. Drink more water. Eat more fruit. Try avocado. Make a small change, or a big one, temporary or permanent. Get out of your traditional dietary habits and don’t be afraid to try something new.
  26. Try new music. It’s so easy to get stuck in one genre of music, but why not try something new and different? iTunes is a great way to sample this. Go into the iTunes store and do some exploring – without having to spend a dime, you can sample hundreds of songs, from the top 100 singles to different genres. If you like it, go listen to it on Youtube for the full song, or purchase it in iTunes so you can put it on your iPod.
  27. Sing… and dance…. and make a fool of yourself. What? No, forget that last part. Alright, this will only work if you’re home alone, but pop in your headphones – or turn up the stereo – and listen to music and go a little crazy. Sing along, dance like an idiot, let loose, have some fun.
  28. Fix something (if you can). This might take five minutes, it might take an hour, or it might be a project to spread out over days – but sometimes when you need a break from whatever’s trouble you, maybe you need to fix what’s troubling you. Whether that’s fixing a tear in a friendship, a problem in the family, or a broken sink… go for it. Try your best, but also know when it’s time to call in a specialist. If you get frustrated, don’t worry – just step away from it and come back when you feel more relaxed.
  29. Throw something out. Too often we keep things that are no longer doing us any good. Realize that maybe it’s time to get rid of that old sweater you haven’t worn in three years, or that broken guitar you’ve been ‘meaning’ to fix for ages. (Note: if what you’re throwing out is in good shape, consider donating it instead!)
  30. Go somewhere new. A new restaurant, museum, store, whatever. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, even if it’s just a short trip.
  31. Cook something. It takes time and money, as well as ingredients, but if you’ve got it… do it. Make something out of nothing, whether it’s dinner or an elaborate cake.
  32. Refocus your mind with some questions. Check out this website for 40 photo-illustrated questions that will really get your mind going.
  33. Check out a TED talkSelf-explanatory, eh?
  34. Learn a new language. Okay, Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t learn French in an hour. But you can work on it, a little bit each day, right? Livemocha is a great free site for this. It has lessons & keeps track of your progress so you can spend five minutes a day if you want, or an hour, or longer. When you need to take a break, go ahead and learn a new language because… well………. why not?!
  35. Write a letter to your future self. FutureMe is a great site that allows you to write a letter to yourself & have it set up so it emails you the letter at a future date – anywhere from tomorrow to years from now. If you’re struggling now, write yourself a letter for the future to congratulate yourself on getting through whatever you’re dealing with right now. Then forget you wrote it, and when it comes to you… you’ll have a nice little surprise.
  36. Stretch. Your arms, your legs, your back. Your neck. Whatever. Anything and everything. Take five minutes to get up and stretch, get the blood flowing and relax your muscles in the meantime.
  37. Do a little good… online. There are a lot of websites where you can spend just a few minutes to help make a difference. FreeRice is one; GreaterGood is another, and there’s plenty more out there.
  38. Start reading a new book. Don’t push yourself to finish it too quickly. Take as much time as you need, read it when you need a break, read it when you have time.
  39. Talk to someone. Too often, we get caught in our own heads. Stressed and overwhelmed by everything we’re dealing with, it’s easy to shut other people out. It’s the oldest advice out there, but talking to someone can really be helpful sometimes. You don’t even have to mention what’s troubling you if you don’t want to; talk about sports, what you’re reading, the weather, the news, how they are, family, whatever. Just talk. Human interaction is a good thing.
  40. Related, give someone a hug. No, don’t go up to some stranger and do it. But a friend, a family member, whoever. It’s scientifically proven that human touch is essential to our happiness – our brains produce more serotonin and oxytocin. So give someone a hug, or a handshake, and improve their day as well as yours.
  41. Sleep. For an hour, three hours, however much time you can afford and are willing to part with. You’ll wake up hopefully feeling refreshed and ready to take charge.
  42. Buy something new. Retail therapy is another one of the oldest tricks in the book. But you don’t even have to go to the mall for this one – you can even just buy something online. Buy a book, or shoes, or a new couch, or anything. Buy something fun, something useful, or something that’s both. Don’t send yourself into debt, but maybe something new is exactly what you need to change things up a little.
  43. Check out history. Take five minutes and read up on the history of your city, your community, your family, your workplace. Read about the Civil War, or the history of Russia, or the Quebec sovereignty movement. It can be pretty interesting!
  44. Organize something. No, this isn’t the same as cleaning. Alphabetize your CDs. Organize your iTunes music into mood playlists. File your taxes. Balance your checkbook… or your calendar. Organize the contacts in your cell phone. Prioritize & organize.
  45. Clean up your email. If you’re anything like me, your email inbox gets filled. Unread junk emails pile up, important notices get swept into the mix, and everything blends together until one day you’ve got 400 emails that you haven’t read. Uh, oops. Give yourself a half-hour and go through your emails. Delete the ones that are garbage or ‘special offers’ you won’t use. Respond to the ones you should. Make an ‘important’ folder for the ones that belong there. It’s a simple process that can actually be pretty therapeutic.
  46. Read up on religion. I’m not telling you to go to church, temple or read the Bible. I’m telling you to learn something about a world religion: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. Read about in a book or online. What are the basic principles or beliefs? How do they practice? What countries is it practiced in? It’s nice to learn something new, and let’s face it – a lot of people are ignorant about religions and cultures that aren’t there own. So not only will this give you something else to focus on, it’ll also make you more educated and informed!
  47. Go for a drive. Ten minutes, ten hours, a day, however long you want. Drive somewhere specific or just drive. (Make sure you’re safe.)
  48. Smile. I don’t care if it’s fake. Just smile. Smile at yourself in the mirror. Keep going. Smile at strangers, at dogs, at family members. Smile at the barista who serves you a morning coffee, or the McDonald’s worker who you order lunch from. Smile, smile, smile. Smile at your desk, your couch, your bed. Even if it’s fake, it’s bound to help you feel better and might even turn into a genuine smile sometime soon.
  49. Do something small. Paint your nails. Shine your shoes. Untie and re-tie your sneakers. Button your coat. Crack your knuckles. Wash your face. Do one – or more – small tasks that are easily accomplished in a short amount of time.
  50. Look at the sky, and realize that there are so many things out there. The sky is a great example of this. During the day: the clouds, the sun, birds, maybe rain. At night, the stars, the moon, planes, shooting stars, who knows what else. It’s a great representation of how big everything really is, and while you may be struggling with something right now, it’ll pass and there are so many wonderful things out there.

Did you read this list? Have you tried any of these things, or maybe have suggestions of your own? Let me know in the comments.

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