Taking a few days off work, or taking a longer vacation, offers measurable benefits for any worker. At the same time, it's important to look at ways to achieve restoration and feel rejuvenated on a day-to-day basis.

Lunch breaks can provide a great opportunity for employees and employers alike to achieve some degree of physical and mental restoration every day, during a time period that is likely already built into your schedule. Including some restorative activities in your lunch break is one way to help reduce the effects of workplace stress. [Find out more in "Breaks During Work are Necessary For Employee Well-Being and Work Performance"].

Restorative lunch breaks can help employees:

  • Prevent burnout and manage stressors
  • Maintain a sense of calm
  • Rejuvenate energy levels, especially if an employee has had insufficient sleep or they haven't been taking enough rest breaks at work
  • Improve overall health and wellbeing
  • Increase cognitive performance and general performance levels at work

A personalized approach to relaxation and restoration

Taking time to relax is an important strategy for improving mental health. It's one element of self-care that can take as little as a few minutes at a time. This makes it possible for employees to experience the benefits of restorative practices during their lunch break, even if they're short on time. Those who have longer lunch breaks may choose to spend longer on self-care during this time period. In any case, there are several ways to include restoration into a lunch break.

How you choose to do so will be based on factors such as motivation levels, support, tools and resources at hand, and personal preferences.

Restorative Activities for your Lunch Break

Start with one or more of the ideas for a restorative lunch break below. You may choose to rotate activities or get into a set lunchtime self-care routine that works for you.

1. Meditation

Science shows that meditation can have profound effects on relaxation. It can be as simple as going to a quiet spot, closing your eyes, and taking 10 deep breaths. Try to focus on your breath, and don't worry when other thoughts enter your mind. Just gently, and kindly, take your attention back to your breath.

As you become more practiced, those 10 deep breaths can turn into a few minutes or more of solitude. An easy way to get started is by using a guided meditation app.

[Find out more in "The Incredible Benefits of Meditation for the Brain That All Companies Need to Understand"].

2. Move Your Body

Taking a lunchtime body break for physical activity is one of the small, simple ways you can squeeze more exercise into your day. Exercise gets the blood flowing around the body, which is especially useful for those who have sedentary jobs. It also releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects.

Moving your body during your lunch break could be as simple as walking around the block or doing a few stretches. With a little more time available, a lunchtime fitness class or gym session could also be an option. In any case, moving your body should help you to return to work feeling energized and ready for a productive afternoon.

3. Get into nature, if possible

As little as 10 minutes in nature can have a positive mood-boosting effect and impact on physical and mental health in general. If you have a green space, such as a park, near your workplace, aim to head there to eat lunch. You might even consider taking your shoes off for a little barefoot walking on the grass if it's appropriate to do so. Even if you work in a bustling city or suburban office building, chances are, there's a small pocket of green space somewhere nearby.

4. Listen to an uplifting podcast or engage with a fun app

For many employees, it may be beneficial to completely switch off from devices over a lunch break and leave them behind to disconnect. For others, technology can actually be beneficial in taking some time to relax and restore.

Certain apps may be useful tools to help you feel calmer and happier in just a few minutes. Perhaps you're trying to learn a language, and want to spend a few minutes on an app tailored to that goal. Or, maybe you find coloring books relaxing, and you want a portable option in the form of a coloring app. There are many options on the market.

Podcasts also make a great restorative activity — although this might not be the time to listen to dense podcasts packed with information. Instead, find a few on subjects you're interested in, or ones that simply make you laugh. Podcasts could be downloaded so devices can be used in flight mode, which ensures that messages and notifications don't turn into distractions that negate the restorative effects of this activity.

[Find out about some of the specific meditation, mood-boosting, and happiness apps that could be used during your lunch break in "Technology and Mental Health: Apps and Tools that Could Benefit Your Employees"].

5. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is often labeled as a form of meditation. While it's a wonderful foundation for meditation, you don't need to be sitting still with your eyes closed to practice it. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment.

You can practice mindfulness while you're eating your lunch by taking your time to eat. Chew properly and notice the taste and sensations of the food. Pay attention only to what you're eating. This is not a multi-tasking exercise!

If you're taking a walk, use all your senses to practice mindfulness while walking. Notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Take note of how the muscles in your body feel, how your feet connect with the ground, and how the wind or sun feels against your face.

[Find out more in "The Well-Trained Brain: How to Implement Mindfulness Training in the Office" and in "Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)", an 8-week training course in mindfulness meditation].

6. Nourish your body with healthy food choices

Nutrition not only plays a crucial role in optimal physical health but also in mental health. Ideally, you'll be able to make time to consume nutrient-rich foods during your lunch break. Eating at your desk isn't really an ideal way to spend a restorative lunch break, so aim to take yourself into a different room or environment to eat, away from all the stressors of your workspace. Ensure you pack a meal with plenty of nutrients that will fuel you throughout the day and won't have you crashing in the afternoon, in search of a sugar or caffeine fix.

How Employers Can Play a Role in Facilitating Restorative Lunch Breaks for Employees

Employers can play a huge role in creating a work environment that makes it easy for employees to enjoy restorative activities, whether that's during lunch breaks, or at other times during the day. As an added bonus, many actions that promote a more wellness-focused work environment also translate to better sleep at night. Quality sleep can yield better energy levels, a more positive mood, and increased productivity in the workplace.

A dedicated wellness area in the workspace is a great idea that employers can implement to help facilitate restorative lunch breaks for employees. The wellness area could be a quiet lounge or room where employees are able to relax and rejuvenate both body and mind. There are endless ways a wellness lounge could be set up and ideas for what it could contain, and it's possible to create such a space on a budget.

Examples of items you may wish to include are:

  • Massage chairs
  • Mattresses or sleep pods so employees can take a nap
  • Comfortable seating
  • Low lighting
  • Relaxing background music
  • Nourishing snacks and a water filter

[Find out more in "13 Impactful Workplace Health and Wellness Initiatives"].