At the beginning of the year, I decided to try to add healthy habits instead of making resolutions, hoping that at least a few of them will stick and I will end the year healthier than I was at the beginning. So far, there have been a few that have stuck, and those have made my life healthier and happier.
One day a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk at work, scarfing down a piece of pizza, trying not to get grease all over a report I was working on, and it hit me – working through lunches, eating at my desk and not really paying attention to what I was chewing, cannot be healthy. I had already decided what my healthy habit for August was going to be, but in that moment, I decided to put that one off and remedy my unhealthy lunchtime routine this month instead. So for this month, the new habit I am going to try out is taking a break. I am going to actually leave my office and eat my lunch without trying to multi-task my way through it.
It turns out that there is a lot of information out there about the benefits of actually stepping away from the office for lunch, and an equal amount of studies and statistics that show just how many employees are not reaping those benefits. Here is some of what I’ve learned:
- the typical American lunch break is less than 30 minutes
- up to two-thirds of workers skip lunch or eat at their desks
- depending on which study you look at, 18-34 percent of workers always eat at their desks and 16-31 percent reported that they almost always skip lunch in favor of continuing to work
- the reason that most people cite for not taking time out for lunch is that the demands of work are increasingly high and workplaces are increasingly understaffed
I fall into the eating-at-my-desk category. Sometimes I pack a lunch, sometimes a coworker runs out and gets us lunch, and sometimes I run next door to Subway, grab a sandwich and settle back in at my desk to eat while I continue to work. Not stepping away for my break and taking a break from my computer screen makes the day long, and I often feel tired and grumpy in the afternoon. I may get a couple of extra things done, but am I really more productive than if I took some time out to recharge? Studies say no. Here are some of the benefits to taking a lunch break:
- Taking a break restores your psychological resources. It is a proven way to increase productivity and decision-making and actually improve your mood in the afternoon.
- It improves your physical health. There is a lot of medical mumbo-jumbo to support this finding, but what it boils down to is this: taking a break lowers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn, lowers your risk of high blood pressure, insomnia, and other related illnesses.
- Taking a lunch break away from your work surroundings decreases fatigue. Getting up and walking away for a bit, eating something healthy, and taking some you-time is like pushing a natural reset button. It revives you for the afternoon, giving you more energy to tackle work issues.
For the past week, I have taken a lunch break each day, and gotten away from my office to do it. I have noticed that I have more motivation and energy after doing so. So far, it seems like my productivity has remained the same, but my mood in the afternoon is improved and I don’t feel as worn out by the end of the day.
So for the rest of the month, I am going to make sure that I take a break for lunch each work day, and I will let you know how it goes.
Update on a month of gratitude: By far, July’s healthy habit of gratitude is the one that has made the biggest difference for me. I am continuing to write down the things for which I’m grateful every day in my journal, and doing so has added loads of peace and joy to my life. Anytime I need a quick change of perspective about a situation, my mind now automatically goes to seeking out the things that make me thankful. It’s a practice that is definitely becoming a habit. I call that a win!