women on lunch break talking with salads

If you feel stressed from work, school, family, and other obligations, it can seem impossible to find time for yourself. A lifetime of unhealthy stress, however, can take quite a toll. Stress can cause or exacerbate health problems such as heart disease and mental disorders. How about using your lunch break for some well-deserved stress relief? In just 30 minutes of down time, you can adopt the following strategies to help relax your mind and rejuvenate your body.

1. Go for a Walk
Exercise is a great way to raise your energy levels and clear your mind. By taking a walk around the neighbourhood, a local park, or even your workplace, you are triggering the brain to produce natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins. A casual nature walk can stimulate all the senses in a positive way; the smell of a blooming rosebush, the sound of a warbling songbird, and the feel of a gentle breeze can help wipe away the lingering stress from that awful 9:00 a.m. meeting. Allowing your eyes to softly focus on all that's around you, as opposed to staring intently at a fixed screen, can help reduce eyestrain. When combined with meditation, as discussed below, walking can have an even greater impact on reducing stress levels.

2. Meditate
No, this does not mean you need to sit cross-legged on a pillow and chant while your office mates walk by your desk throwing you curious glances. The practice of meditation comes in a variety of forms and a few are simple to integrate into your lunch hour. The first thing to do is turn off your mobile phone and put your computer on standby. Shut the door if you can. Find a place where you can be free from distraction and interruption. Sit comfortably and soften your eyes. Slow down your breathing. Focus your mind on a particular object, thought, or mantra. Let all other thoughts disappear from your consciousness.

There are guided visualisations and audio clips that can help you through your first few meditation sessions. A quick search online will reveal dozens available at the click of a button. There are even iPhone apps available to facilitate your meditation practice. Benefits of meditation include lowered blood pressure, increased focus, and reduced symptoms of anxiety. Even if you can only squeeze in five minutes of meditation during a lunch break, you will notice the difference later.

3. Be Social
Invite a friend or co-worker to join you on your walk or lunch break. There are many benefits to having the support of friends in your life, whether you turn to someone for advice or just share a few laughs together. Try not to talk about work, but shift your mind to other things. Being alone and mulling over the stressful things in your life is counterproductive. Make an effort to reach out to your co-workers and find some friends among them. You may find that you share a hobby or an interest that you can pursue together.

4. Eat Well
Rushing to a fast food restaurant and downing a bag of greasy, calorie-dense food before jumping right back into work is not the best way to use your lunch break. With a little planning, you can prepare at home or purchase your own healthy, nutritious, and satisfying lunch. Some foods that may help lower your stress levels are:

  • Whole-grain breads
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oranges
  • Avocados
  • Raw vegetables
  • Salmon

By eating a nourishing, well-balanced lunch at an unhurried pace, you can cultivate good nutrition and provide yourself with enough energy to get you through the rest of the day. If you didn't pack a lunch in the morning, try to find a convenient shop with a salad bar or healthy deli. Some shops offer build-your own stir-fry bars or fresh, healthy sandwiches made to order. Remember to watch your portion size and choose a variety of colourful, fresh ingredients to make your meal. Avoid fatty, sugary, processed foods, which will likely provide a quick energy rush and a crash later in the afternoon.

On your next lunch hour, resist the urge to take that last phone call, answer an email, and procure lunch from a vending machine. Get out of the office, get moving, and take care of yourself. Whether you find yourself meditating blissfully by a fish pond or eating lunch with your co-workers at a busy sidewalk cafe, make an effort to reduce your stress and improve your life.