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The Art of the Lunch Break

And Other Ways to Mindfully Return to the Office

Paul Bradbury/Getty

Besides taking a lunch, holding meetings while walking and doing body scan meditation at your desk are two more examples of mindfully returning to the office.

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic completely disrupted work style and structure for millions of people. So many of us had to find new ways to adapt and maintain a work-life balance in the “new normal.” But now that many employers are gearing up to go back to the office, how can we remain cognizant of our health and mindfulness needs?

Take That Lunch Break

It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes to work better you need to stop working. Break-time allowances can vary depending on your position, the state you work in, and other factors, but if you know that you’re entitled to take a break during your workday, definitely do it! Our current corporate culture often glorifies overworking and normalizes eating lunch at your desk, but the bottom line is that those who structure their day to include taking breaks are actually more productive than those who try to work straight through the day without rest.

[Read: “Out to Lunch: Having a Mindful Lunch Is Not the Same as Eating Lunch.”]

Another way to maintain health while on your lunch break is through the actual lunch! If you can manage, prepare some exciting and feel-good foods to enjoy during your breaks. Of course, stay mindful of your own dietary needs and do what best serves your individual body, but ditch diet culture (extremely restricting calories, normalizing negative self-talk, and labeling particular foods as “good” and “bad”) and follow intuitive nutrition to improve your overall wellbeing. Intuitive nutrition was introduced by registered dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and focuses on respecting hunger and satiety, getting in touch with your body and its inherent needs, honoring your relationship with food and health, and embracing movement.

Step Away

Beyond just taking your entitled break from engaging with work, it’s equally important for you to physically step away from your desk or workstation and get moving from time to time. Numerous studies have found that people who sit for long periods (10 or more hours a day) are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who sit five or fewer hours each day. Given the fact that the average workday is eight hours, this is certainly some cause for concern if you’re largely sedentary in those eight hours. In fact, a Mayo Clinic analysis of 13 different studies looking at sitting time and activity levels found that the risk of dying for those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity was similar to the risk for those who suffered from obesity or were heavy smokers. In addition to taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes, researchers recommend walking with colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room, and perhaps trying a standing desk if possible.

Do Body Scan Meditation at Your Desk

If you don’t have the time to leave your desk during the workday, there are still plenty of smaller at-desk activities you can do to encourage positive health. To focus on alleviating back pain caused by sitting in your office chair all day, for example, try body scan meditation. This is a form of mindfulness where you focus on the sensations in your body instead of concentrating on your breath like in other forms of meditation. By directing your awareness to each part of your body, this meditation can help you manage pain, stress, and anxiety.

Body scan meditation is an integral component of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs used to treat chronic pain and other long-term illnesses. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get comfortable. Adjust your posture and chair settings to a comfortable position.
  2. Bring awareness to your body. Take a deep inhalation in and exhale. Notice your position and how your body is resting on the chair. Feel the weight of your body in the chair.
  3. Shift your attention throughout the body. Start with your head and slowly progress down your body—neck, chest, shoulders, arms—until you reach the soles of your feet.
  4. Pause to assess how you feel. After bringing attention to each body part, pause for a few seconds or as long as you like to tune into how it feels, (i.e., tense, relaxed, tingling, or painful). Pay attention to each of the sensations.
  5. Tune into your body as a whole. After you have moved through each part of your body, spend a few seconds observing how your whole body feels, as one. Take a few deep inhalations and imagine yourself exhaling any tension you noticed. Slowly open your eyes and bring your attention back to the space you are in.

By bringing awareness to each body part, you are honoring and showing gratitude for your body. Feel free to shorten or lengthen your body scan by dividing your body into bigger or smaller sections if you're really pressed for time.

Engage in Mindfulness

Even better than simply standing up or slightly away from your desk is going for a walk, perhaps to a local park, or other quiet and peaceful spot outside the office. You may wish to take this time in a quieter and distraction-less environment to meditate—that is, become aware of your breath and your body, slowly regulate your breath, and alternatively tense and release all the muscles in your body. Just 15 minutes of meditation can alleviate pain and digestive discomfort, diminish feelings of fatigue and anxiety, enhance working memory function, improve visio-spatial processing (which helps with problem-solving), and promote better overall executive function (how we plan, pay attention, multitask, and more).

[Read: “10 Ways to Make Meditation Practice a No-Brainer.”]

If you can’t physically leave your workstation during your break for whatever reason, there are still plenty of ways to give your body and mind a rest and realign yourself. You can still try and focus on meditative breathing. Alternatively, you can try out some simple mindfulness exercises in self-awareness, self-love, and positive affirmations, and self-talk.

Self-talk is an internal conversation that you have with yourself about your actions and outcomes. It can include self-management, where you prepare for future events by “telling” yourself what to do, say, or expect; self-reinforcement, where you congratulate and encourage yourself following particularly positive experiences that make you feel proud, accomplished, and capable; and even self-criticism, where you discuss mistakes, failure, or other negative experiences that leave you feeling discouraged, embarrassed, or incapable.

Next time you have a few moments to engage with yourself, try positive self-talk using these three types of compassionate discussion points. These and other positive affirmations (“I am doing a good job,” “My coworkers appreciate me,” and so on) will make you happier and healthier, as well as more productive, goal-oriented, and resilient as you return to the office environment.

Download our ebooks The Book of Daily Affirmations and Meditation at Work for FREE!