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Make the most of your Lunch Break

1. Take a designated time out from work

The first step here for many of us, is to actually take the lunch break. Surveys show that only 1 out of 3 workers actually leave their desks to take lunch. It may be the office culture, or we might be putting the pressure on ourselves to schedule another meeting, or catch up on emails or calls. In reality, North American employees who take a lunch break everyday report higher engagement including job satisfaction, and productivity. In firehouses, the cooking and eating of their daily meal on that shift is a highly important part of operating as a team. Managers and team leaders can be the ones to start the shift in their own organizations. Leading by example and creating an environment where taking time for lunch is encouraged and not penalized will pay off for everyone to reduce stress and burn out and encourage team building.

Now that we agree to set aside time for a lunch break, let’s talk about maximizing the benefits. Continuing to sit at your desk and doom scroll news is likely not going be the most rejuvenating.

2. Get up from your desk.

Maybe there are some errands you need to run. Maybe you can get to the gym, or to a lunch time exercise class. If this isn’t an option, consider going for a walk, climbing stairs or doing some in office exercises like wall push-ups, squats or even tai chi. If you are able, you can bring other shoes or a yoga mat. Not only will you combat the negative health effects of sitting you will also feel more energized, focused and creative.

3. Make it social

Invite coworkers. Not only will they benefit too, it will be more fun and you can encourage one another. Spending time getting to know each other in other contexts may also make it easier to come together as a team for work projects.

4. Get some natural light

If possible, get outside or at least find a window. Natural light in the workplace has been linked to improvements in focus, productivity, morale and a decrease in absenteeism. People who have access to natural light at work have less eye strain and headaches. Natural light also helps with setting our circadian rhythm which will help improve our sleep quality.

5. Spend time in nature

If possible, go to a park or other wooded area. If a park is not available, visit a tree or flowers in your office parking lot, or even an office plant or some pictures of landscape scenes. Be present with nature, allowing your mind to clear and be in the moment. Take some deep breaths. Feel appreciation for the oxygen the plants are providing. Time in nature increases feelings of calmness, happiness, and attention, and lowers cortisol levels reducing irritability, blood pressure and feelings of isolation.

6. Get Creative

Participate in art, music, dance or creative writing among others. If you are able, consider cooking or gardening. Creative outlets can decrease stress levels and even improve memory.

7. Relaxation or Mindfulness

All of the above can be tools, especially with the intention of staying in the present moment. Consider using your lunch break for a reset. Consider a breathing exercise, meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation or contemplative prayer. Mindfulness in the workplace improves resilience, task performance and empathy and social relationships.

8. Choose healthy foods

We make healthier choices when we have the opportunity to plan ahead. Pack your lunch or scout out some healthy restaurants the night before. Keep working towards reducing sugar and fried foods and increasing that rainbow of different color fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and proteins. Think outside of a sandwich. Try making different style bowls with whole grains, lettuce, veggies and beans, chicken, or shrimp with different international themes. Try an Indian or Thai curry, fajita style with salsa and guacamole or Mediterranean theme with hummus and olives. Save time and money by packing leftovers. No time to cook or prepare, look for healthier frozen options or consider using a food service. Both will likely offer benefits over most lunch take out options.

9. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

Even if you can’t take a full hour or every day, start somewhere setting aside time for lunch. Taking a healthful lunch break will pay off. Enjoy better physical health with less aches and pains, more energy, feel more motivated and creative, happier and productive!

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