Most Americans feel short mental health breaks boost their well-being, survey finds

People walk under blooming cherry trees along the Tidal Basin on April 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Mental health has been the focal point for many since the pandemic started. With stress and anxiety seemingly at an all-time high for many related to everyday life, a new health survey examines ways people can bolster their quality of life.

The 2022 Healthy Now survey from Parade Media and Cleveland Clinic polled 2,021 people 18 years or older to share their perspectives on improving their mental health. According to the survey, 46% of Americans say they have maintained or improved their mental health by taking multiple 5 to 10-minute breaks to help relieve stress, depression, and anxiety.

Mental health outlook for 2022

Results from the survey show Americans still struggle with their mental health with anxiety and depression among some factors. Approximately 37% of respondents rated their current mental health as average or low. Forty-five percent polled said they struggled with anxiety, 36% said sadness and depression, and 34% cited anger at least once a week in the last month.

"I think we have all gone through the collective trauma experience over the last few years between the pandemic, racial injustice, and the war in Ukraine.  There are a lot of things impacting people’s mental health we know most people who are seeking mental health treatment are reporting anxiety so I think a lot of people have different stressors and worries," Dr. Kia-Rai Prewitt, Ph.D., a psychologist working in the center for Adult Behavioral Health at Cleveland Clinic, told FOX Television Stations Wednesday. "We also get several people who are coming in with depression, so they're feeling down, they may be feeling hopeless and overwhelmed, so there are a lot of people struggling right now."

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One reason for low mental health among some surveyed was the lack of activities like exercise to boost mental health. The survey found that 37% of respondents didn’t exercise regularly or spend time outdoors, compared to 52% who rate their mental health as high.

Moreover, people surveyed, who rarely or never participated in activities to help their mental health, cite being too busy (34%) and the duties of caring for a loved one (36%) as reasons. Roughly 24% of individuals said they didn’t know how to support their mental health.

Respondents to the survey, who said their mental health is strong, credit quality rest, movement, and interaction with others as activities helpful to bolstering their mental and emotional health.

Short breaks during the day are helpful

Seven out of 10 Americans (70%) surveyed believe that taking shorter breaks throughout the day is more beneficial for their well-being than taking one 30 to 60-minute break, according to the survey.

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"I think the benefit of taking many breaks throughout the day is it breaks up the monotony also it’s helpful to get up and stretch," Prewitt said. "If you’re in the office it might be helpful to go and talk to a coworker to catch your breath and take a short walk. If you’re working from home it might be helpful to close your eyes for a minute and do a 60-second meditation just to do a self-scan to see if you need to take care of some other needs that you might not be paying attention to while you’re working."

Moms struggling more with mental health

Mothers tend to struggle the most when it comes to their mental health given the number of responsibilities they are required to handle compared to men. Nearly one in three mothers (32%) said they never or rarely spend time to improve or maintain their mental and emotional health.

"I think for a lot of moms they are so used to getting things done, and they have a lot on their plate and even though you will find men are taking on more responsibilities at home," Prewitt said. "Women are still doing the majority of the household tasks, still doing the majority of the childcare in addition to working, and it can feel overwhelming and impossible to take a break."

Prewitt said she tells women dealing with mental health challenges to prioritize their needs in addition to caring for others. "It’s hard for a lot of women but I kind of frame it with your own self-care is important. If you're not caring for yourself it’s going to be hard to take care of those other things. And so part of it is giving yourself permission to pay attention to your own needs and to be assertive about asking for help when needed as well."

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According to the survey, 43% of moms rate their mental health as average or low, compared to 26% of fathers who provided the same response. Additionally, 17% of moms said their mental health is "excellent" compared to 33% of fathers who said the same thing.

Work and mental health

There was a mixed bag of results in the survey when it comes to working professionals and their mental health. Given the demands and rigors of work-life balance for parents who are working professionals, they reported higher levels of mental and emotional health than non-working parents.

Roughly seven in 10 (69%) of working parents said their mental and emotional health is strong, compared to 55% of non-working parents. According to the survey, working parents are more likely to feel happy, fulfilled, refreshed, and productive every week.

However, some working parents surveyed feel that work can take an emotional toll on them. Working parents reported higher levels of exhaustion (65%) and anger (42%) on at least a weekly basis. Results were lower for non-working parents to the same questions. Among non-working parents, 52% experienced exhaustion and 31% felt anger every week.

Sex and mental health

Men and women had differing views when it came to sex and their mental health. According to the survey, men are more likely to find having sex refreshing after a long day (54%) than women (36%).

When it comes to fathers and mothers, there is a discrepancy. Sixty-five percent of dads said having sex is rejuvenating, compared to 44% of moms. However, some women surveyed said they find solitary activities healthy, including reading a book (63%) or lighting a candle (48%).

60-second breaks can be beneficial

Prewitt suggests to women and others who feel like they don’t have time to rest to take a minute out of their day to recharge their battery before moving on to the next task. 

"One thing that I suggest to women is to take a mindful minute or 60 seconds in between activities. Because a lot of times women, myself included, I’m a working mom, we often go from one thing to the next without catching our breath," Prewitt said. "One thing I suggest to women is giving themselves permission to take 60 seconds in between activities just to sit and observe themselves, observe surroundings, and by doing that it allows them to recharge so hopefully whatever stress they have from the previous activity, they’re not carrying that into the next activity."