To anyone with a desk-job… sometimes the daily grind can do quite a number on your health and happiness. When you spend your entire day indoors, seated, staring at a harsh computer screen, and often exhausted, it can take a pretty immense toll on our physical and mental well-being. Ideally, we get to take a break about halfway through the day to have a good meal, decompress a little bit, and socialize. Ideally…
But how many of us actually cash in on the opportunity to, however briefly, leave our desks and let go? According to an article I read, just 47% of people actually took a full lunch break, 20% of people eat at their desks, and 13% rarely ever even have lunch (not sure about that other 20%). http://smallbusiness.aol.com/2010/10/26/survey-says-most-people-no-longer-take-lunch-breaks/
It seems that people either do not have time, or do not see it as necessary. One writer for Slate.com argues that lunch breaks are “over-rated”, and that any time spent dilly-dallying will just make you have to stay at the office later, and take away from time spent at home with family and friends http://www.slate.com/articles/life/a_fine_whine/2012/04/eating_at_your_desk_why_lunch_breaks_are_totally_overrated_.html
The above photo is what I look at all day when I sit at my desk. Not exactly inspiring or happy-thoughts inducing. Therefore I look for any reason I can to get away from my cubicle, even if just for a few minutes.
Two days ago it was an uncharacteristically warm day in Massachusetts and I enjoyed my sandwich out by the office-park fountain. It was such a perfect afternoon, with all the trees boasting their fall colors, but the sun still in summer mode. Every breeze sent a gentle shower of yellow and orange leaves all across the picnic area, drawing all the bleary-eyes workers out into the rare October sunshine.
All the same, I couldn’t help but feel rushed. I get paid hourly, and as such I try to minimize time away from my workstation. (Although quite frankly it doesn’t matter. I do absolutely nothing for 7 or my 8 hours at the office. I still don’t understand why they hired me, it doesn’t seem like they have anything for me to do!). But I rushed, because I didn’t want my boss to think I was slacking, or neglecting my “responsibilities” and taking advantage of…well, I guess the lack of work?
That’s now the way a lunch “break” should be! Numerous research studies have shown that workers who take regular breaks are more productive, happier, and don’t burn out as quickly. Breaks are something to be capitalized on, not something to feel guilty about! And while it’s not always an option to go outside, or eat something fancy, and perhaps even take a break on some days, there are ways to optimize any window of opportunity which comes across our desk. Here are a few tricks I’ve devised to make the best part of the work day even better!
1. Take It Off!
Our clothes carry associations with them. Whenever we wear a sharp blazer, we think of interviews and assume a more professional air. When we wear jeans anda football jersey we reach for the beer and feel free to lounge. The same thing happens at work. If you are fortunate enough to sit outside, don’t hesitate to kick off those toe-pinching heels or awkward office shoes. Let your toes enjoy a few minutes in the grass (preferably if you are eating alone and outside. Your colleagues and fellow restaurant patrons might not appreciate this.)
Maybe take off your sweater or jacket and let your skin breathe a little (again, common sense. Don’t want around in your underthings). It will help you mentally get out of the office and let your senses roam for a few glorious minutes.
Our phones are such confusing companions. They allow us to connect with distance friends and relatives. They give us games to play when we are bored. But they also keep us on the clock, ’round the clock.
They also keep our eyes away from all the beautiful intricacies of your environment. The material on your phone will always be there. You can always pick up that conversation later. But the perfect half-turned foliage outside, that intriguing stranger sitting at a nearby table…those things are fleeting and may not come around again. Every minute that we are at our desks, we are looking at a screen. When you get a chance, give your eyes and your mind a break!
Studies have shown that computers deteriorate eye health not because of the light or the screen, because it does not challenge the eye. Like the rest of our bodies, our eyes need exercise. They need to look at textures, and 3D objects, look far away, move across a page…not just stare at one thing all day! Even if it’s rainy or cold out, try to get yourself near a window or in a open-space. You will feel less claustrophobic and your eyes will get the stretch they need. If you can’t leave your desk, try to at least roll your chair over to the other side of your desk and open up a magazine instead. You’ll be available and signed on, but your eyes and brain get a much needed rest from the computer.
3. Talk to Strangers
This doesn’t have to be creepy. Don’t go on the prowl looking for new friends of hook-ups (although added bonus if you happen to find one). It’s more the idea of letting down walls and not shutting people out just because you don’t know them.
It’s simple really. If you’re in the elevator, waiting in the lunch line, or making photo copies etc next to someone you don’t know… just ask how their day is going, or talk about how dismal the weather is, or how the Xerox machine just won’t give you a break. This simple act of compassion will lift your spirits as well as theirs.
4. Skip the Coffee
It’s odd seeing these words come out of my…keyboard. I love love love love LOVE coffee, and most of the time when I stress out I feel as if the only thing that will calm me is the smooth hot comfort of a dark roast coffee. But then again…coffee doesn’t exactly contribute any sort of nutrition. While caffeine can stimulate the brain and boost creativity, drinking it in excess can cause rapid heart beat, digestive problems, and restlessness. On a more interpretive level, I also feel as if sometimes drinking coffee can feel a lot like putting gas in the car: “let’s guzzle down another cup so we can’t crunch these numbers faster and crash when we get home.”
On your lunch break, rather than fueling your data-entering-crazy-fast-typing monster, nourish your body and allow it to unwind. Go for a healthy unsweetened green tea, fresh fruit juice, or milk instead. Green tea has lots of anti-oxidants that eliminate all the bad things that stress can put it (like free radicals) while also boosting your immune system. Fresh juice (not the kind with pounds of added sugar and artificial ingredients) gives you vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin C and fiber, that keep you full and healthy. And milk…easily one of the healthiest things around. It’s packed with Vitamin D, which most of us office/cave dwellers don’t get enough of since we avoid the sun like the plague, and keeps our bones strong. It’s also loaded with protein, which will keep us satisfied until the end of the day, allowing us to avoid snacking of the doughnuts in the conference room and save room for dinner.
5. Enjoy the View
Here’s an article I found about using the power of the Right Brain:
6. Take a Stroll
Extensive research has shown than a sedentary lifestyle can lead to significant health problems. The lack of circulation in the body can to blood clots, obesity, sleep apnea, and even deep vein thrombosis. Because the body isn’t moving as much as it should, fluid collects in the joins making movement painful and caused muscle and joint pain. Going for a short walk will help keep the body’s naturally processes flowing, release tension from muscles, and boost your metabolism so that you can actually harness the energy from your lunch.
Even if you don’t get a chance to leave your desk at lunch, try to go for a quick stroll every hour or so. Maybe take a lap around the office or just step outside and walk for 5 minutes. (If people get to leave work for smoking breaks, you get to leave for walking breaks that actually help you instead of poisoning your body.) If you have the privacy, and your dress isn’t too short, try to even get in a few basic stretches (especially working your shoulders, knees, and back since they take the brunt of the damage from sitting).
Here’s a handy diagram I found on Pinterest about the dangers of sitting:
7. Lose Track of Time
It doesn’t count as a “break” if you have the stop-watch running. I get it, sometimes you only get a limited amount of time (like if you work retail or if you work in shifts) but the majority of us are not restricted by such rigid timing. If you decide that you need to take your phone to lunch with you, do yourself a favor and try not to look at the time. While you probably shouldn’t be gone for more than an hour (apparently the French take two-hour lunch breaks!), don’t measure every minute. Eat your lunch slowly, enjoying the flavors and allowing yourself to digest properly, take a walk, and don’t return to your desk until you are refreshed and ready to work.
Here are the Links for the website referenced in this post, as well as some extras on Lunch-Break enjoyment:
“More Than Back Pain: The Hidden Dangers of Sitting”, by Brooke Phillips
“Survey Says: Most People No Longer Take Lunch Breaks”, by Rieva Lesonsky
“Eating at your desk: Why lunch breaks are totally overrated”, by Rachael Larimore
“12 Fun Things To Do On Your Lunch Break”
“10 things to do on your lunch break that don’t involve Facebook or Lean Cuisine”, by Sarah Von Bargen
“24 rejuvenating ways to spend your lunch break,” by Christina Desmarais