Embrace Your Lunch Break
I started to write this blog post on May 1st, also known as May Day, also known as International Workers Day. This day is recognized around the world as a celebration of the gains in labor protections fought for by workers. This NPR story briefly goes into more of the history. There has been a new flux of labor unions forming across the United States, from graduate students to non-profit workers. I have not been a part of these movements, but in reading more about them, and talking with friends (including one who was quoted in the previously linked New York Times article about non-profit workers!) I have been reflecting a lot on how I function in my workspace.
I recently started a new job. I used to work from home with a flexible schedule and now I commute an hour into the office every day. There are pluses and minuses to both scenarios. I enjoy working in a shared office space but I miss working with my pet bunny at my feet. I have always had supportive supervisors that encouraged taking breaks and an overall work-life balance, but there is something about this new position with a more rigid schedule, that is reworking how I view my work day. That is: I have a newfound love for my lunch break.
My lunch breaks are now filled with walks through Central Park (yes, my office is in Central Park in New York City), phone calls to family and friends, reading, listening to music, running errands, or happily scrolling on my phone. I slowly eat my food and forget about work. I get to take a break and feel like myself—not my workself—for an hour in the middle of the day. It is magical. I return to my desk feeling refreshed and ready to finish out the day.
I used to be a proponent of taking a shorter lunch and ending my day earlier. Or sitting at my computer and eating my lunch. But, there is something about embracing that full hour of non-work time in the middle of the day that truly helps ground me. Long before I started at my workplace my union fought for my full-hour break, so I take it!
Research even supports taking a break! Taking a walk or participating in a relaxation exercise during lunch has been shown to positively affect well-being. Research also shows that spending just 20 minutes outside in nature can lower stress levels. Even just looking at nature, like a green roof, can increase your ability to focus on tasks.
I admit having my office in the middle of a huge city park helps me with my pro-lunch-break mindset. I remember the times of taking my 30-minute lunch in a big department store break room with no windows. It stunk! If your work is more like the latter scenario now, I encourage you to make space for a true break. Maybe that means speaking with management about renovating your break space to make it more welcoming and relaxing, or creating an outdoor seating space. Again, even just looking at nature has positive effects on mood. A true break from work also needs to be embraced by the whole team, create a culture of relaxation and encourage your coworkers to not discuss work in the break room.
I also don’t have kids or other loved ones (besides my bunny, Otis) that I need to hurry home to care for. If having a shorter lunch helps you do that, then I still encourage you to fully embrace whatever lunchtime you do have. Step away from your computer! If you are at a camp or school this summer, step away from the kids after first ensuring a colleague’s supervising! Try your best to find some peace, whatever that looks like for you.