STRESS-RELATED ABSENCES ACCOUNT FOR 49% of WORKPLACE ABSENCES EACH YEAR
As a 9-5 culture, we are burnt out.
Constantly connected, it is estimated that the ability (and expectation) to access work emails outside of the office has increased our working hours by 70%.
On top of this, social media and instant messenger mean we now carry our personal life into the office, just as much as we take our work home with us. It's time to disconnect.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M BURNT OUT?
Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:
physical and emotional exhaustion
cynicism and detachment
feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, even in small amounts, it's your body and mind's way of telling you that you need to take a break.
And while you may not be able to convince the kids to leave you in peace, or explain to your friends that you can't make it to drinks without having to make up for it another evening, one thing you CAN do is assert your right to a lunch break - even if just for 20 minutes, once or twice a week.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
The hardest part is leaving your desk.
It's cold outside, you're feeling sluggish, you could just browse ASOS... this is what you're going to be up against every day.
The main thing to remember is that if you leave your desk, you're going to feel great.
So just leave your desk. Walk out the building.
If you freak out, you can always turn back, but once you're out, it's unlikely you will.
Now do something! Anything. As long as it's for you.
You could sit in a cafe and write a letter to a friend you haven't seen in years. Or give them a call.
You could walk as far as you possibly can in half an hour before turning back again. Hire a bicycle and go even further.
You could draw a portrait of a stranger sitting nearby. Or listen to a podcast.
Get to know classical music. Knit a scarf. Go on a date. Learn a language.
The lunch break is your oyster, and there's 260 of them every year.
And if you need a little further inspiration, there's a great book you could buy!
BUT WHAT'S THE POINT?
I could quote statistics at you about how "if you take a lunch break you add 3 years on to your life" or you "reduce your risk of heart disease"... but I can't actually back them up.
What I can verify, though, is the mind-blowing impact that taking a lunch break had on my energy, mood and - most unexpected of all - my diet and alcohol consumption (read on!):
Gone for Lunch: 52 Things to Do in Your Lunch break
"In general, I felt sluggish most days, fairly demotivated and occasionally resentful for being made to sit at my desk until 5.30pm - when I had got through everything I needed to do by 5pm. Everything was grey. I put my lethargy down to the nature of my work: humans are supposed to create, produce, build fires! We are not made to sit at computers.
But what has shocked me is how all those thoughts have evaporated, just from taking a lunch break a couple of times a week. I no longer feel tired and unhealthy, or creatively deprived. It seems that a few twenty-minute, well spent breaks are enough to hit my desire to go and live sustainably in the wild well and truly on the head. I am now thankful for the structure and security of my office job and the company of my colleagues, neither of which I would have as a self-employed freelancer [as I fantasised about becoming when dreaming about breaking free from the daily grind]. I get excited about going to work because I associate my working day with exploration and discovery, even though nothing has changed in my role other than the fact that I now approach it with more enthusiasm. Since using my lunch breaks productively, I am satisfied, energetic and when I think of work, it is bright and colourful.
Finally, my whole lifestyle has improved. This I didn't realise until I hit a busy period at work and was unable to take a lunch break for almost three months. I initially noticed how furious I was. Being deprived of a break, after several months of midday freedom, was like being told you can't go on a holiday you've been looking forward to all year. I felt caged, exasperated and depressed. This initial reaction lasted for about two weeks, after which I accepted my fate and returned to my former grey state of being.
This was when I noticed that my whole life was affected by the lack of a lunch break. The quality of my diet plummeted. By the time I left work each day, I was so low on energy that I would reach for the nearest microwave meal or takeaway menu available. I also drank a lot more alcohol, meeting friends after work with that old familiar line, "God, I need a drink!" or thinking the equivalent to myself when I got home and poured myself a glass. I rediscovered caffeine, and all the pastries that accompany it. In short, my body was grasping around for energy. The effect knocked on to my weekends too, filled with more drink, more lie-ins, more sugary "treats", and that dreaded Sunday evening feeling that the whole vicious cycle is about to begin again. As soon as the busy work period was over, I ran to my lunch breaks as to a friend I hadn't seen in years, and everything else got better."