The lunch break, something we all used to look forward to, is starting to feel like a thing of the past. A huge 79 per cent of us don’t actually take a break at lunch, with one in five of us using the time to run errands or spending it on social media instead, according to research carried out by Samsung KX. It’s a bad habit to fall into – and one that is doing our mental health no favours.
Broadcaster and Radio One DJ Clara Amfo identifies: “I can’t remember the last time I took a traditional lunch break,” she tells me over the phone (ironically) during her lunch break. “By the very nature of what I do, my show ends at lunchtime so there’s always something to do straight after. I am the statistic.” Confessing that she carries a “to-do” notebook around with her, to which she adds tasks regularly, Amfo is not surprised by the stats. “We’re always on the go. The idea of a lunch hour at this point is quite… utopian.”
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Neglecting to take a break at some point during the middle of the day to unwind, recharge and refuel can, quite quickly, lead to burnout and feeling overworked. Research has shown the importance of this time for productivity come afternoon, as well as in terms of keeping stress levels low and improved mental health. Your creativity will also likely be enhanced after taking a lunch break.
The problem is that many of us simply can’t stop. “We’re addicted to being busy,” says Amfo. “It has become like a subtle badge of honour, and I think we’re all guilty of it. We’ve got ourselves into a cycle of constant moving, and mentally it can be damaging. It’s important for people to take time, savour their food and savour conversation; take time to shut out the world and make your lunch hour count.”
Here are five easy ways to do just that:
Listen to something positive
Off the back of its lunch hour research, Samsung KX has produced the “Lunch and Listen” series, on which guests including Katherine Ryan and Reggie Yates reveal their hidden talents to host Amfo. Its aim is to encourage stressed out listeners to take time out. Alternatively, look to podcasts like Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail, or Rose Gallagher’s Beauty from the Heart, for more feel-good vibes.
Take time over eating your food – and eat it mindfully. Not only will this help your mind disconnect, studies have also shown that approaching food in a more thoughtful way can help us feel fuller quicker, and encourage us to make healthier choices, too.
Do some exercise
If you struggle to fit exercise in before or after work, try doing it at lunch. Whether it’s a spin class at Psycle or a gentle walk in the park, getting your heart racing will boost your endorphins and take down your cortisol levels, all of which means a less stressful afternoon ahead.
And if you really feel like you don’t have time…
“Try and divide the hour into 15 minute chunks,” advises Amfo. “Spend the first 15 minutes blitzing through emails – and set a timer – then for the next 15 minutes listen to a playlist and zone out. Then, for the next half an hour, eat your lunch. I think that’s a realistic but productive lunchtime. If you can take a full hour, fantastic. But if you can’t, break it down. Then it’s back to work.”
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