“On a damp, autumnal day earlier this week, I did something that’s become a rare occurrence in recent months: I took my lunch break,” says our social media editor Julia O’Driscoll. “Not exactly groundbreaking, I know – but bear with me here.”
Like many others, in the summer I was taking full advantage of my midday hour-long break to get some much needed vitamin D, catch up with friends and step away from my screen. But as the weather gets less predictable and the pop-up food markets of sunnier days disappear, the incentive to get up and away from my desk has become much harder to muster. Even harder still is the challenge of enticing an office pal to brave the outdoors with me when I’m armed with umbrellas, boots and a raincoat – not my best look, but essential nowadays.
On grey days, it’s more tempting to stay in and either work through lunch – catching up on emails and neglected to-do lists instead – but I soon realised that by not taking a proper break from my four screens (the joys of social media!) I was getting restless and more irritable as the day came to an end. It was something commented on by colleagues, who found that the usual tack of plying me with coffee or sweet snacks wasn’t having quite the same effect…
Research by Ofcom found that in 2018 UK adults spent an average of 3 hours 15 minutes online daily, with social media and online streaming services providing endless opportunities for hours to disappear in front of our eyes, quite literally. For those working in tech, media or anything involving long periods of concentrated time in front of a computer (does that narrow things down?!) this average will be far lower than their actual daily total. Working in digital content, I’d imagine that my own weekday average would work out to be much higher.
The impact of screen time on wellbeing is a separate issue, of course. The point really is that there’s nothing sustainable about working yourself to the point of burning out, both in the long and short term. Taking regular breaks from your work, whatever it may be, is crucial for your physical as well as mental health while the negative impacts of having lunch at your desk and not taking a pause shouldn’t be underestimated. A studypublished in 2017 found that when we take the time to relax and socialise during a lunch break, our wellbeing in the afternoon is improved in various ways: employees are more likely to return to work feeling confident, replenished and engaged, which can surely only be a good thing during the winter months when the dark draws in before many have even left the office.
When the days are busy and work is piling up, I’ve sometimes felt a sense of guilt about taking a break, and that is something I’ve decided to put an end to this winter. Instead, I’m taking more ownership of how I make the most of the hours during the working day. Even writing this, I noticed my language shift from taking ‘a lunch break’ to ‘my lunch break’ – a small observation but a recognition that the time is yours to take and a sign, perhaps, that I should try to feel less controlled by the clock and calendar reminders, and welcome the pause more positively.
I’ve found it’s easier to make the most of a lunch break if you purposefully plan the time you have. Whether it’s working through a list of errands (constantly.dashing.to.the.post.office.), ringing a friend or relative for an overdue catch up, or exploring a nearby neighbourhood, set yourself an activity for the duration of your break – not something to achieve necessarily, just something to do. Here are just a few ideas for ways to make the most of your lunch break in the winter months.
Office lunch clubs
If you can’t brave the outdoors, arrange a lunch club in the office. Invite a few pals or colleagues you don’t often get to work with and arrange an in-house date. With limited space in our kitchen, Team Eco-Age has started using one of our meeting rooms for lunches, getting everyone together for a chat. As well as the level of laughter in the office going up (who knew it could!), we’ve noticed everyone’s packed lunch game seriously step up too…
Move your body
You could start by looking into nearby gym classes. A 45-minute yoga or pilates class could be just the thing you need to break up the day and take your mind away from the nitty gritty day job tasks. If that’s not something you can commit to, see if there’s a local park or public footpath that you can explore. Plug in a podcast or playlist, wrap up and go for a walk. Try to resist scrolling as you go, and make an effort to not reach for your phone.
Go on a two minute plastic pick-up
Grab a bag and hit the streets for a two minute task that will earn you all the good karma points. Set a timer and pick up as much plastic as possible before the buzzer; take it back to your office to recycle wherever possible, or dispose of.
Swap apps for paperbacks
Escape into a whole other world with a wonderful story or non-fiction work. I’m certainly guilty of spending my lunch break on the same apps I work on most of the day so at the start of the year, I’d planned to try and read 40 books in 2019 – I’m absolutely nowhere near my goal, but in recent months my pace has picked up and I’m trying to squeeze in an extra chapter wherever and whenever possible.
Or, swap paperbacks for the paper
If a book isn’t for you, treat yourself to a daily paper or a much-loved magazine. Give yourself time to enjoy it – do sudoku, take on the cryptic crossword, check your horoscope, and catch up on what’s going on in the wider world.
Write your holiday greeting cards, or take up a crafty hobby that you can leave in your desk drawer and work on during your lunch break. I’m a keen crocheter and embroiderer, but you could knit or even try out origami. Make Christmas decorations or set yourself a DIY Secret Santa – something that requires a little light concentration. You could always host a crafternoon to fundraise for mental health with Mind.
Browse the local high street
If you’re lucky enough to work near charity shops or independent retailers, try to stop in once a week and see what’s new in store. If you’re on a budget, take yourself on a cash-free shopping trip and just enjoy getting to know the area.
Today, Sophie and I popped to our favourite local Italian deli and brought bowls filled with delicious salads to a nearby park. The fresh air helped us to blow away a few cobwebs and forehead crinkles – so much so that I left my purse behind on our bench! Running down Kings Street in kitten heels isn’t quite what I’d planned when we left the office – but I made a fair few passersby laugh and had a story to tell when I got back to Eco HQ, something that doesn’t often happen when I spend lunch on Twitter. If anything, it made me realise how unaccustomed I’ve recently become to switching off just for a little while during the day – and as a result, I’ve tapped this out far faster than planned.