Lunch breaks when WFH: how to make the most of them
Working from home has ramped up so much in the past decade as people’s entire work life can now be contained within a single laptop. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, many people experienced the switch to a virtual work setting which resulted in some significant changes in how work and home life were balanced.
This delicate balance impacted how personal versus professional time was spent, which was especially evident when it came to lunch breaks (or the lack of them). Breaks are crucial, affecting both your physical and mental health. Humans were not evolved to sit down for 8 hours a day, especially in front of a computer screen. Even if you do take workday breaks, you may find it hard to get the most out of each one.
Working from home creates a blurry line between home life and work life. It’s important to create boundaries within your workday to better enjoy your free time — starting with your lunch break. To maximize focus and motivation while you’re working, use your lunch break to effectively destress, maximize your time, and tune in with your body. Take back control of your day by learning how to make the most of your lunch break.
How often should you take breaks when working from home?
The human attention span while working on an activity is only 20 minutes. How on earth are you going to get through a whole day of work if you begin getting distracted every 20 minutes? This is why it is so crucial that you are respecting your mind and allowing breaks throughout the day.
Neglecting breaks during the workday is detrimental to your health:
If you work through an entire day without taking a break, you’re at risk of getting a “mental block.” Your brain will eventually reach its saturation point.
In addition to physical consequences, neglecting breaks can lead to burnout. People tend to develop a decreased sense of value and purpose from their work if they don’t ever give themselves time to catch their breath.
Additionally, sitting at your desk all day without taking breaks can cause poor posture that can lead to serious consequences (ie. joint pain). Staring at a screen all day can even lead to eye strain. Finally, you may have heard that sitting is the new smoking.
Increased Disease Risk
By not moving frequently during the workday, you could be falling into this new category of chronic disease risk.
On the flip side, taking breaks has a number of proven benefits on your mental and physical health and well-being:
Decreased Stress and Improved Mental Health
If you are putting yourself under stress all day, your body is going to be releasing high amounts of cortisol (aka. the stress hormone) resulting in negative effects on the mind and body. By taking a break you interrupt cortisol secretion, allowing your body to return to homeostasis.
You want to be passionate about your work, but 8 hours a day, day in and out can be taxing. Taking breaks throughout your workday can increase productivity and creativity so you can get excited about your work again.
Sitting all day can exacerbate joint pain and inflammation. Taking a break frequently to stand up moves lymph fluid, lubricates joints and improves mobility.
By working for hours on end in the same position, you are putting a lot of strain on your body. By moving around during your breaks, you will encourage blood and oxygen flow. Improved circulation can lead to heightened energy levels.
For better health, take frequent breaks. Research recommends standing up from sitting every 30 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management tool that incorporates frequent breaks into the workday to help promote productivity. The Pomodoro Technique states you 5-minute break every 25 minutes, followed by a 15-minute break at least once every two hours.
By taking a break every 30 minutes or following the Pomodoro Technique, you can improve your mental health, increase energy and physical mobility, and decrease your risk of developing various life-threatening chronic diseases. See if taking quick 5 to 10-minute breaks throughout the day helps to make your day more productive and enjoyable.
Why is it harder to take a break when WFH?
It can be difficult to step away from pressing work responsibilities to take downtime for yourself. When you’re working from home, your time is your responsibility. It’s common to work straight through the day, without looking up from your screen. It’s also common to feel like you’ve been working all day, only to realize you’ve binged all of White Lotus while accomplishing very little.
This is why it’s harder to take a true break when working from home:
1. Constant Distractions
When working from home, house chores can’t help but stare you in the face. Dirty dishes are piled up, laundry is in the dryer, your bed needs to be made, and your pet is begging for your attention with a single glance. Instead of taking a true, rejuvenating break, you spend your time completing house tasks in between work tasks. The lines between work and home life blur, and you feel more exhausted than usual when the workday ends.
2. “Mindless” Working
Ever turned on a Netflix show at 8 pm and looked up and suddenly it's 1 am? When working from home, it’s easy to complete busy work with your favorite show playing in the background. Before you realize it, you’ve worked through six episodes (translation: six hours) without taking a break.
3. The Pressure to Exceed Expectations
The concept of “climbing the ladder” still exists even if that ladder has moved to your home office. To set yourself up for success at your company, you may be taking on extra responsibilities while sacrificing “me” time. Without the positive peer pressure to take a coffee break or shut off your computer for lunch, you are at risk of skipping much-needed breaks altogether.
It may be difficult to step away from the computer when you are at home. Setting up at a coffee shop or the local library can reduce stress during and after your workdays by establishing a physical separation between the two. Remove the distractions of chores and TV by creating a physical and mental distinction between work life and home life.
Regardless of where you choose to conduct your virtual work, be sure sure to give yourself designated time throughout the day to set the work aside and take a break.
What to do on lunch breaks when working from home?
You may have heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”. A picture comes to mind of a middle-aged man in a cubicle sitting hunched over a computer screen all day. In the US, work has become much more sedentary over time. People sit all day, yet are so exhausted by lunch that they’d prefer to keep sitting or even lie down. However, the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism published research revealing that moving for just 3 minutes every hour can benefit your body and your brain.
Sitting for long periods of time can actually be detrimental to your health. Not much movement is needed to reverse the negative effects. By moving just 3 minutes every hour, energy increased, metabolism was higher, mood improved, and headspace was clearer. And the longer you move, the greater the benefits.
Your lunch break is an opportunity to stand up and move.
- De-stress with yoga or meditation.
Recenter yourself by focusing on your breath with a quick 10-minute yoga session. Yoga also reduces joint pain by stretching muscles that grow tight from sitting all day. For meditation without movement, try a guided meditation or breathwork exercises, available for free on Youtube.
- Take a walk
Walking for 10 minutes after eating helps food move through the digestive tract and will help to reduce your blood sugar spike by 12%. A short walk also boosts brain activity, indicating heightened attention and faster brain processing.
- Schedule in physical activity.
Feeling stir-crazy or have no other time in your schedule to get a workout in? Schedule an at-home workout. Hit up your apartment gym or take this time to go on a run. Get your blood pumping and feel re-energized for the rest of your day.
- Decompress with a good book.
Take your eyes away from screens to instead enjoy a book. Plus, escaping the stress of real life to enter another world can help you return to work rejuvenated after your lunch break.
- Grab a midday coffee or call a friend.
If you work remotely and do not have many meetings throughout the day, then you may crave human interaction. Socialize and reconnect with friends and family. A fun idea could also be to set up a group call with your co-workers and catch up on life!
Likely, you do not want to spend your lunch break exclusively eating. If you spend every lunch break eating while staring at a screen, then consider integrating one of the suggested activities into your routine. Plus, logging off and moving your body is great for your mental and physical well-being in the long run.