Intentional study breaks can ease student stress

Charlotte Lang

With the semester about halfway through, students may be facing hours of study and homework each week. While cramming may be the go-to preparation for tests and essays, there are those who say well-timed study breaks are just as important to academic success.

“When we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, our brain can only concentrate for so long,” said Janelle Patrias, manager of mental health initiatives at the Health Network. “It’s best when you feel yourself getting stressed or simply lacking all focus when studying to take an intentional break.”


Patrias said students can reward themselves with breaks after studying for a specific period of time or after they’ve accomplished a task, such as reaching an end of a chapter or writing a certain amount of pages.

Viviane Ephraimson-Abt, the manager of resiliency and well-being initiatives for the Health Network, said that while work and studying can contribute to a sense of meaning and purpose, allowing breaks is important.

Ephraimson-Abt also said the balance required between work and play may vary depending on the individual.

“We all have different stress thresholds,” Ephraimson-Abt said. “Some of us thrive on a packed schedule, and some of us need to have less stimulation.” 

Ephraimson-Abt encourages students to understand what truly restores them when taking a break from work or studying: something that is also different for each individual.

The Grow Your Happy page on the Health Network site provides relevant tools to support happiness and well-being. Ephraimson-Abt said students can look at this site to learn more about what contributes to life satisfaction.

According to the page, every person can take actions and develop habits that increase happiness.

Ephraimson-Abt said there can be physical, emotional, cognitive, relational and spiritual signs that someone is working too much and taking on too much stress. 

“Each one of us has different signals that let us know that we have been working or studying too hard,” Ephraimson-Abt said. “It could be that you start to get physical signs like a headache or not being able to sleep well, or perhaps you lose your sense of humor.”

Paying attention to stress threshold signs early is important, Ephraimson-Abt said. Ignoring overwork and too much stress can have varied consequences, including impacts on health and relationships. It also may reduce motivation and effectiveness.


Sometimes, we really benefit from a night off to do something fun with friends, get outside in nature, have a meal with a loved one and talk about things other than all the things on your mounting to-do list.” -Janelle Patrias, manager of mental health initiatives, Health Network

One of the best ways to prevent such consequences is to build time for breaks into life, Ephraimson-Abt said.

“That walk you take between classes can make a difference,” Ephraimson-Abt said. “So can scheduling something after a packed week to give yourself a break.”

While Patrias said students need to be mindful of not racking up more study breaks than actual studying, it can be beneficial to have some time off.

“Sometimes, we really benefit from a night off to do something fun with friends, get outside in nature, have a meal with a loved one and talk about things other than all the things on your mounting to-do list,” Patrias said. “It’s important to take intentional time for self-care.”

Patrias said the best way to optimize a study break is to move. This can be as simple as getting up to stretch and walk around the room or going outside and taking a short walk. The fresh air and movement of the body can help get rid of stress hormones like cortisol that accumulate in times of stress.

Another resource Patrias suggests is You@CSU, which has resources concerning stress for students and can be accessed from RAMweb.

Ephraimson-Abt also said there are sessions known as Well-Being Wednesday at The Institute for Learning and Teaching that can be helpful for students looking to get more ideas for boosting their well-being. 

Patrias said another option is deep belly breathing during a study break.

“Lie down or sit back in your chair, and put your hand on your belly, and really try to slow down your breathing while taking full deep breaths as though (you) fill your lungs through your belly button,” Patrias said. 

While this activity can make a person sleepy by putting the body in a relaxed state, Patrias said this isn’t necessarily bad.

“This can certainly be a good thing because we can’t be both stressed and relaxed at the same time,” Patrias said. “So this is a great little practice to bring you into a relaxed and calm state when you are feeling too much stress.”

Charlotte Lang can be reached at or on Twitter @chartrickwrites.