Everyone deals with work-related stress and anxiety to some degree. But do you know how much of an impact those feelings can have? Not only do stress and anxiety impact our productivity during the workday, but they also negatively impact our overall health and wellbeing. We all know stress is bad for us, but coping with stress can often be stressful in itself.
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Dealing with these feelings can be easier if you approach it in small ways. One easy way to start is using your lunch break for stress-relieving activities. Rethink your habit of quickly eating something while at your workspace. Instead, consider these suggestions for using that midday break to improve your stress levels and productivity and work on your mental health.
Avoid the Sad Desk Lunch
We’ve all seen it: one of our coworkers, still seated at their desk, consuming that little Tupperware container of nondescript salad while checking their email. Perhaps you’ve even been that person before. But you don’t have to be!
Simply getting away from your desk to enjoy your lunch (even if it’s still a Tupperware container of salad) can make a huge difference to your mental health. Justworks’ partner Health Advocate suggests heading to your kitchen or the office cafeteria to unplug and de-stress.
The key is to separate yourself from your workspace when you break for lunch. Try eating your lunch near the biggest window, or laying out a big blanket in the living room and having a picnic lunch. If you’re working from home, you could even spend some extra time in the kitchen cooking yourself a gourmet meal.
As long as you’re away from your desk — and your screen — it doesn’t matter where you enjoy your lunch. Just a small change in scenery can help boost your energy levels and relieve stress.
Take a Mental Health Break and Move Your Body
When you’re feeling sluggish and tired, the last thing you probably want to do is get moving. But you’ll get an even bigger boost of energy if you find ways to move your body. There are a ton of options, too, especially if you get a little creative.
Walking is one option that doesn’t require any creativity, and it’s associated with many mental health benefits (all backed by science, of course). One study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that people who walked at lunchtime three times a week felt better, even after walking for just 30 minutes. They reported feeling less tense, more enthusiastic, and more relaxed, and even felt they could better cope with their workload. It makes sense — happy people have been shown to be more productive.
If walking isn’t your thing, and you’re up for something a little more rigorous, working out during your lunch break is also a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. Exercise is clearly good for you, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it has specific mental health benefits, too. Exercise bumps up the production of endorphins, helping you to feel less stressed. Many people consider yoga as one of the most effective types of workouts for relieving stress, but there’s a large variety of videos online for any type of workout routine you’re interested in.
Use your creativity to get moving in ways beyond walking and working out. Hike up and down the stairwell of your home or office building. If you're rmeote, take your dog for a walk and you’ll both get a boost! Or, after enjoying your lunch (away from your desk, right?), throw some tunes on and spend a little time picking up the house or putting in a load of laundry. Music will get you dancing, and tidying up your space might help increase your focus when you get back to work.
A study by Princeton University found that clutter can make it difficult to focus, so it’s beneficial to keep up with tidying your workspace. Not only will a clean space help your focus while working, but cleaner spaces are also more often linked to positive emotions like happiness. And anything you can do to trigger positive emotions (and endorphins) is a benefit to your mental health.
Go Outside and Enjoy Nature
Nature is another thing that’s linked to positive emotions and decreased stress and anxiety. Whenever possible, try to take your daily lunch break outside, surrounded by some greenery — consider a tree-lined street nearby. For those of us who work in cities, green spaces can be few and far between. If you don’t have a backyard, front lawn, or home garden to visit, stoops and nearby parks are good options. If you don’t want to leave your home, you can instead sit near a large window where you’ve got a view of the trees on your block. Cozying up to any houseplants you have can help, too — just the sight of them may decrease stress levels. Consider trying an immersive remote tour of a faraway island for a whole new level of stress relief through nature.
Breathe and Meditate
Meditation is another immersive activity that’s been around for a long time, and for good reason. This practice is a powerful tool against anxiety, and a simple one that anyone can use to help improve mental health during the workday. Many practitioners say it restores their energy and helps them to focus on tasks that require concentration, which is something a lot of us could use.
Meditation is growing in popularity in the business world as a method of helping employees de-stress in the workplace. Aetna implemented a meditation program across their organization and saw some surprising results. Participants reported a 28% reduction in stress levels, a 19% reduction in pain, and a 20% improvement in sleep quality. Those are some serious benefits for employee mental health and wellbeing! On top of that, employees who meditated also gained an average of 62 minutes per week in productivity.
Of course, meditation might not be for everyone. But even just finding a quiet place to do some breathing exercises can have mental health benefits. Breathing exercises help you to slow your heart rate, which can have an immediate effect on anxiety. This post on Psychology Today offers some simple breathing techniques you can use anywhere — even at your desk. Don’t hesitate to use them as needed.
Arts, Crafts, and Photographs
Art therapy is known to have great mental health benefits, especially when it comes to stress management. Researchers at Drexel University found that just 45 minutes of creative activity lessens stress, regardless of the person’s artistic talent or experience. Of course, spending your lunch break attending art therapy isn’t always a feasible option. Thankfully, there are other creative, artsy activities you can do to boost your mental health during the workday.
Coloring is one activity that started making a comeback in recent years. Sure, it’s not the same as art therapy by any means, but coloring has the potential to reduce anxiety and increase mindfulness. Back in 2005, a study found that when subjects colored mandalas, their anxiety levels dropped. With the popularity of adult coloring books, it’s easier than ever to take a quick coloring break to calm your mind.
If making art isn’t your thing, you can try simply appreciating it. A study from the University of Westminster asked participants to visit an art gallery on their lunch break, and spend 35 minutes exploring the space however they wanted. Those who had high levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, before entering the gallery reported feeling less stressed when they left. If you can’t make it to any real-life locales, take advantage of all the art galleries and museums that have gone virtual. You can have your pick of cultural experiences from Vincent van Gogh’s paintings to The Art Institute of Chicago.
And when high-end art just isn’t doing the job, you can always resort to looking at pictures of adorable animals. A Japanese study showed that looking at images of cute creatures not only improves our attention and focus, but also makes us happier. Now you have scientific proof that browsing for pictures of kittens, puppies, or other fuzzy friends can help improve your mental health!
BONUS: Ideas for Short Breaks
If you’re looking for ways to shake up the shorter breaks you take throughout the day, Google Chrome has an extension for that. Teeny Breaks prompts you to take a short break by serving up a fresh activity every time you open a new browser tab or window.
In addition to these ideas, Justworks customers can also access mental health services from our service provider, Health Advocate. This includes 24/7 access to confidential counseling services, unlimited calls to the Health Advocate hotline, and more.
Your mental health and wellbeing are important, and certainly worth a bit of your lunch break time. Start taking small steps now to see big benefits in your future.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.