Love your lunch, love yourself: midday mental health rituals

Posted by on in Blog, Productivity, Self-care | 0 comments

Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash.

Today, I make a case for the hour-long lunch.  I know, I know.  It may seem a far-fetched idea.  Bear with me.  Midday mental health rituals are not just for the self-employed and otherwise privileged.

At work, many of us are pressured to eat at our desks in front of our computers.

Others of us eat on the run in the car between errands.

If you can manage to get away from the office and go for lunch with colleagues, you may find yourself taking your meal with a heaping helping of work talk.

In our worst moments, we may skip a mealtime altogether in a haphazard effort at efficiency and then struggle to apply our starved brains and bodies to an afternoon full of work.

Photo by Gardie Design & Social Media Marketing on Unsplash

I wish we would stop doing this.

I simply can’t think of a single line of work that is worth the martyring of our bodies.

Even among healthcare professionals where lives are on the line– and I bet you know how the saying goes– “You’ll help no one if you don’t first help yourself.”

If you want to survive in such a high-stakes profession, you’ll need to learn how to take care of yourself in order to serve others and avoid burn out.

We need to do more than pay lip service to these ideas. The truth is, if you don’t invest some time in yourself now, you’ll end up investing it in spades unpleasantly later on.

While I know that the work culture in the United States will probably never permit a lunch and siesta break midday from 11 to 2, I wonder if we couldn’t do a better job of giving ourselves more than five hurried minutes to refuel midday.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

While rushed meals at your desk may appear to enhance your efficiency in the short-term, there some bigger costs in the long run for your personal health and your productivity that you should consider:

People who depart fully and mindfully from a task and then purposefully return to it later have a sharpened sense of purpose and are better able to marshal their resources for the remainder of the business day.

And, those that put in an hour of self-care now are less likely to burn out on the job in the long run.

Building feelings of resentment, fatigue and overwhelm are hardly good companions to take with you on your career path. An hour-long lunch break may not be the perfect antidote to a stressful job, but it is certainly a good start.

So, what is a true lunch break, anyways?

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash.

A true lunch break varies by person and by job.

If the idea of taking a whole hour for lunch feels daunting, you can practice embracing this important pastime in increments and degrees.

Here are a few ideas:

If you pack your lunch, try eating away from your workspace—maybe in a break room or your colleague’s office.

If you must eat at your desk, position your chair to look away from your work while you eat. Don’t answer the phone if it rings.  Plug in some headphones and listen to some music to tune out ambient noise.

If you’re adept at cat-napping and have the privacy available to you, pack a pillow and sneak a ten minute nap after your meal.

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash.

If you are indoors most of the day, go outside for five minutes after your meal. (This one may not be advisable right now with the terrible Texas heat, but I imagine a few minutes in some brisk fall air would feel lovely!)

See if you can get away from the office once a week for a lunch out with colleagues and try to nix the work talk while you’re eating.

The mechanics of your true lunch break matter less than the spirit with which you undertake the task. Simply put: make yourself a priority in your workday.

If you find your mind or your hands wandering automatically back to your work, redirect yourself. Hold yourself to the hour or half-hour you’ve set aside for your meal. Partition your work to-do list in your mind and redirect amply as needed.

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen on Unsplash.

For those of you steeped heavily in overworked culture, this will take some practice.

By now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, this all sounds good in theory, Ann, but this would never be tolerated where I work.”

And, you may well be right. If that’s the case, I would encourage a bold and curious inquiry into the nature of your job and work situation overall.

If your company begrudges you a minimum of thirty minutes of lunch on paper or in practice—which is illegal in many work settings—you might need to consider if this is a sustainable position for you.

If you’re happy where you are, you may have to learn to do some really good self-care on the backend of your day in order to protect yourself from burnout.

And for those of you who have the latitude to do the hour lunch but are the harshest boss of all, I’ve got news for you: you deserve an hour of your time. If you are serious about trying this on for size but need some help, surround yourself with supportive colleagues or seek the help of a therapist.

The bottom line: if you don’t take a true lunch break midday, you’re setting yourself up to be “out to lunch” in the midst of an important mid-afternoon meeting or worse, to burn out on the job.

So, take some time to let yourself refuel– not simply for the sake of productivity, but for the sake of self-care and practicing some self-compassion.


Tired of feeling like the runner-up in your own life?  Wondering how to set better boundaries to protect your time and interests, especially in relationships that really matter to you?  I’m a therapist offering codependency therapy and counseling for new moms in Austin, Texas.  I also offer EMDR therapy.

If you’d like to meet and talk more about possibly working together, touch base to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.  Please note:  because I’m a therapist in Austin and I don’t offer teletherapy, I am unable to work with people in therapy outside of the Austin area at this time.

Submit a Comment