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8 ways to refresh your brain when you’re overworked

Stress is such a normal part of daily life; it’s easy to forget that it takes a toll. If you don’t take care of yourself when you’re feeling overworked, the rest of your life suffers. You may feel tired and unmotivated. You get less sleep. You’re more susceptible to negative emotions. You don’t think clearly, which makes it harder to work, which leads to more stress. Fortunately, you can avoid those nasty consequences by practicing these healthy habits when you’re feeling maxed out.

Get up and move

One of the best and easiest ways to get some relief from feeling overworked is to simply go for a walk. A recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that people who went for a 30-minute walk during their lunch break three times a week felt more relaxed and enthusiastic. They also experienced aerobic and other health benefits.

If 30 minutes sounds like a lot, even a 10-minute walk is enough to clear your head and ward off the dangers of sitting too long. If walking isn’t your thing, try a short yoga session or even a few minutes of jumping jacks to get your heart pumping.

Go to lunch

When is the last time you took a real lunch break? If it’s been a while, you’re not alone. A 2012 study found that only one in five employees took actual breaks for lunch. That time away—even if it’s just 15 or 20 minutes—can improve your concentration and energy for the rest of the day.

Make the most of your lunch by:

  • Eating healthful foods that give your brain a boost, like fish, whole grains, and avocados
  • Resisting the urge to eat (or do anything else) while you work
  • Not skipping lunch. Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is vital to your productivity and health.


Maintaining a daily meditation practice is like giving your mind and body a gift. The health benefits of meditation are impressive, and stress reduction is at the top of the list. If you’ve never meditated before, you can start with as few as two minutes a day and build from there. With a little practice, you can stop feelings of being overwhelmed in their tracks with a short meditation vacation right at your desk.

Choose a change of scenery

Breaking the stress cycle can be as simple as changing your surroundings. If you work near any kind of green space, a quick walk can reduce your stress level and even help prevent depression.

City-dwellers can also benefit from a change of scenery, even if there are no trees or plants nearby. Head to a coffee shop in the afternoon for a productivity boost. Research shows that the low ambient noise in a café is actually better for creativity than both loud and silent environments.

Even if all you do is move to a conference room or lobby area, changing your surroundings can keep you from getting stuck in the rut of looking at the same things day in and day out. Try scheduling blocks of a few hours in a new place each day to shake up your routine.

Practice unitasking

If you’ve become a master of multitasking, the time has come to try something new. It’s tempting to think that multitasking makes you more productive because you’re getting more done in less time. But in reality, the quality of all that work suffers the more you multitask, which sort of defeats the purpose.

Meet unitasking. It’s just a fancy word for doing one thing at a time. Whatever you’re working on, focus on just that. Turn off your ringer and mute text notifications. It may take some practice to break the multitasking habit, but your work quality will improve and you’ll feel less stressed.

Organize your priorities

Sometimes, you have so much to do that the process of deciding what to do first is overwhelming. It may seem counterintuitive to devote precious time to getting organized, but it can actually help you save time once you know what to do and when to do it.

There are various systems and tools to help you prioritize your tasks; you can also come up with something all your own. Once you have everything sorted out, set aside a few minutes each day to check off what you’ve accomplished, whether anything has changed, and what your plan is for tomorrow.

Get some emotional distance

Sometimes feeling overwhelmed has more to do with external factors than with anything you can control. If your employer has taken steps like reducing resources or laying off staff to cut costs, you can get stuck with the consequences. The process of figuring out who “owns” the stress you’re feeling may lead to tough choices like moving on to another job, or it may just mean you need to plan a vacation or spend some quality time with friends and family to regain some balance.

Ask for help

It’s so simple, yet often so hard to do. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and struggling to keep up, consider asking for help. Maybe you can delegate some simpler tasks so you can be free to tackle the complicated work. Maybe there’s someone on a nearby team who has just finished a project and has some time available to pitch in with what you’re working on. You won’t know unless you ask.

Admitting you’re struggling to keep up can feel like a failure, but when done right, it can be a great thing for both your working relationships and your ability to get the job done.

When work piles up, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do to get out from under that weight. It’s true that there’s a lot about your job that you cannot control. But there are also lots of things you can do to help yourself. By putting some of these healthy habits into practice, you can beat back the stress of feeling overworked and prevent it from creeping up on you in the future.

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