During my workday, one of the major things that has fallen way, way by the wayside has been a standard lunch break. It seems silly, but I can become so focused and entrenched in my work, that what was once an hour ritual for errands, relaxed meals, and exercise has all but disappeared. It's a rare treat to escape to a Barry's Bootcamp lunch session across the street or chat with a coworker over a salad at a SF hotspot nearby.
I wondered what impact — if any at all — this change in schedule had left on my mood, mental health, and physical health. Was it better to stay focused and power through, or does my brain actually need a bit more of a pause than eating (and spilling) chia pudding over my keyboard. After our IT department had to literally trash my keyboard from spilling soup on it (yet another victim of my desktop lunchtime, RIP), I decided I'd try a quick experiment. What would happen if I took 30 minutes (or more!) to give my brain and body a pause and a reset?
I mixed it up each day this past week to see what felt right, and reflected after day five's break on what I learned and how I felt. A quick recap:
- Day 1: Literally just taking an actual lunch break. I tried a keto diet this week, and forgot to pack my lunch. This was the catalyst that reminded me I needed to step out of the office — and stay there for a little while — so I went to Chipotle. I know, I know. It's a start, OK, give me a damn break.
- Day 2: Lunch with a friend. One of my best friends from college works at a huge tech company just across Market Street from our POPSUGAR HQ office in SF. This tech company happens to offer free buffet-style lunch every single day, and said best friend had asked why I never take advantage of such a glorious offering. He was right. It's right here, it's free, AND I get friend time. The hour of delicious and nourishing free food (hello, build-your-own salad), and spiritually and emotionally nourishing one-on-one time with a BFF was just what I needed.
- Day 3: Meditation. My sweet boss here at POPSUGAR ended up getting sick and couldn't use her ClassPass meditation session — but asked me to take her place! It ended up being the perfect way to tune out and turn off for exactly 30 minutes, and it was just across the street from my office. I felt so calm I actually fell asleep. Whoops. Afterward, I grabbed a salad with fellow POPSUGAR Fitness editor Gina, and we chatted for a little while about life and dreams (and fitness, of course) before heading back to work.
- Day 4: In-N-Out adventure. Everything in San Francisco is so close together, but often I get stuck in my tiny little radius of where I work. A coworker and I decided it was time we did something "wild" and took a 15-minute Uber ride to In-N-Out in Fisherman's Wharf. It sounded good to both of us and I knew I could get something keto-approved. We were there and back within 45 minutes, and both of us were so excited and satisfied — both physically and emotionally!
- Day 5: Sunny walk and reading. On Friday I decided to take a short 12-minute walk down to the Ferry Building — it was 70 degrees and sunny, and the idea of a walk with a smoothie in hand sounded so lovely. I read a chapter of a book down at the bay before walking back to the office with some food in hand. It was dreamy.
Seems pretty standard, right? Nothing extreme or crazy. Eat lunch alone, eat lunch with a friend, meditate, go somewhere new and different, and go for a walk. But (perhaps not surprisingly) I found myself feeling a lot better than I have in previous work weeks. Here are some insights I've taken away from the experience:
Screen Eating Sucks
I didn't realize how bad it was to eat in front of a screen (read: computer, TV, or phone). I mean, I fundamentally KNEW that it wasn't ideal, and I've been hearing it from the rest of the Fitness team here at POPSUGAR, but you don't really realize the gravity of it until you change things up.
Breaking away from my desk has allowed me to appreciate my food and eat more mindfully. I've savored my meals more, and even been a little more adventurous in my routine cuisine, trying new foods vs. what's immediately available to port back to my computer.
I Experienced a Great Mood Boost/Anxiety Reduction
The happiness I experienced on day five from just a little sunshine and quiet bayside reading was enough to make me want to continue this five-day "experiment" for the next 365 days. I allowed my body and brain to breathe a sigh of relief, to disconnect, and to take some much needed me-time. I feel more relaxed, more at ease, and generally more positive. Good food, feeling present, sunshine, a little circulation, friend time, and exploring new places can have that effect on people, I suppose. The mood boost was the most significant difference I experienced overall.
My Favorite Activity Was Walking Outside
The best mood boost undoubtedly came from the quick walk to the water. Getting out for a breath of fresh air and enjoying some peace and quiet (and actual sunlight) made my body feel great and was an excellent release from the stresses of work. I want to make sure I do this at least once a week, if not more.
I Was More Present
One of my favorite takeaways: I connected to my environment and people I care about. Not only did I spend quality time connecting with a friend, but I renewed my appreciation for my city and the amazing offerings here. During my walk, I was reminded of so many charms that made me fall in love with SF — taking time to enjoy the walk itself (versus using the walk as a means to an end) allowed me to soak in more. So many times I thought "OH! I forgot about Sushirrito!" or "Oh my gosh, I didn't even know that place existed!"
I enjoyed the quirks and adorable staples of San Francisco — what attracted me to this area in the first place — more than I had in months, if not over a year. It's SO easy to fall into a "rut-tine" (routine . . . but a rut) and become desensitized to what's around you. This was such a great way to get myself out of that, and to truly feel present.
These Breaks Aren't Just a Treat, They're Necessary Self-Care
At first, I considered these breaks a special treat — a luxury. But looking back, this was a necessary boost to my mental health that has allowed me to feel more calm, less stressed, happier, and more attentive and positive at work. Instead of silently and slowly running myself into the ground by being 112-percent on all of the time, hitting the off switch — even for just one half hour — has brought balance into my life. You can bet your butt I'll be continuing this next week, too.