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Attention! Not Your Grandmother’s Coffee Break

3641With so many things, electronic or not, vying for our attention, it seems like common sense that taking an attention-break could give our minds a much-needed rest, helping us marshal strength for the next focusing task at hand.

Throughout the history of the modern work-force, breaks have been a recognized part of the workday. There’s the elevenses in the U.K., lunch breaks in he U.S., coffee breaks, and even, if you’re particularly blessed with a thoughtful boss, meditation, nap or exercise breaks.

Why do we need these breaks? Because breaks actually make us better workers, drivers, parents, spouses, and friends. Some pilots take ten minute naps while flying, though whether or not it’s to improve their focus or because they are so exhausted from their 16 hour shifts that they can barely function isn’t clear.

Sustained attention is crucial in daily life and underlies successful cognitive functioning.   And how to improve attention and focus, has been the subject of much research. Everything from steroids and amphetamines, to essential fatty acids and protein, to naps and exercise has been employed in the quest for high-performance in sports and work, which require sustained attention.

Looking Away From Your Computer Screen

We know that our eyes get very tired and dry from looking at our computer monitors. Focusing on the screen generally leads us to blink less frequently, which can lead to dry and tired eyes. The blue light of our monitor’s can even disrupt our sleep cycle, which is why it’s a good idea to turn off your electronics a couple of hours before bedtime, or at least use a blue-light filter, such as amber or yellow glasses or a blue-light filter app.*

Looking away from your computer screen is always recommended by eye doctors, who suggest we look at something else for 5 minutes out of every 30. (Who really does this though?) If we do, our eyes get a break and we’re able to spare our eyes some problems and get back to work feeling a bit refreshed. Our eyes are better able to focus.

Our minds also need breaks in order to focus.

Green Roofs

A couple of years ago a Whole Foods opened up in near us in Brooklyn. The highlight of the store is the 20,000 square foot rooftop greenhouse/farm. But other businesses also have installed green roofs and aren’t necessarily growing produce in them.

The logic is obvious: Green roofs can reduce the retention of heat in urban areas, help to cool down buildings and thereby lower their energy use, and even pull some carbon dioxide from the air and feed it back into plant growth. Plus, they look cool. —Washington Post

Roof Proof

But there are other reasons aside from cleaner air and cooler buildings. People really love taking breaks in these sky-high mini-parks. Of course, we know that taking a nature break is good for us; the fresh air, the soothing green color, the time to let our thoughts just meander. But taking a green-scene break, even a micro-break that consists of merely looking at a picture of a green scene, can actually help us focus.

In this new study, highlights indicate:

Neuroscience techniques provide direct empirical support for attention restoration theory.

A micro-break viewing a green, but not concrete roof city scene, sustains attention.

The green roof city scene perceived as more restorative than concrete roof city scene.

Results suggest city nature is valuable for healthy cities and workplaces.

Study participants who briefly viewed a flowery green roof vs. those who viewed a bare concrete roof , made significantly lower test errors.  The scientists say “…this reflects boosts to sub-cortical arousal and cortical attention control,” and proves the benefits of micro-breaks and green roofs.

Even More Green

Longer green walks and breaks as opposed to shorter green micro-breaks give offer additional benefits. Walking meditation is one of our most beloved recommendations—no one has ever come back from a green walk and said to us: Wow, that was a waste of time. Instead, they cite general feelings of refreshment in mind, body and soul.

Now is the time of year—get outside to an orchard, park, meadow or forest. Or at least your nearest rooftop garden.

*We’re not recommending the glasses or apps, we just wanted to show you what’s out there. We haven’t tried this app.


Attention! Not Your Grandmother’s Coffee Break

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2015). Attention! Not Your Grandmother’s Coffee Break. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 May 2015
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