I've finally started taking a lunch break, and it's the best habit I'm going to keep when the office reopens

Rebecca Harrington/InsiderTaking a real lunch in the kitchen is the best habit I’ve started during the pandemic.
  • I started taking a lunch break while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s the best habit I’ve developed so far.
  • I feel more energised and happier when I go back to work.
  • Research backs up my anecdotal experience, as scientists have found that breaks allow our brains get a chance to debrief information we’ve gathered and make sense of it.
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I used to be one of those people who always ate lunch at their desk.

I’d convinced myself I was “too busy” to take even 20 minutes to sit at a table in the office kitchen and scarf down a semi-civilized meal, let alone venture outside the building. I thought I could get more done – and get more kudos from my bosses – if I spent the whole day at my computer, working through lunch.

But as I’ve been working from home the last month and a half, I’ve done the unthinkable: I’ve started making and eating lunch a room away from my closed laptop.

In March, I fled New York City, the world’s coronavirus epicentre, for my parent’s house in Wisconsin. I talked to my mum, who would also be working from home, about the best ways to be good coworkers. We decided to hold each other accountable for taking breaks, which neither of us did very often.

We now have a recurring 30-minute weekday meeting at noon titled “Take a Break,” and we make each other stick to it. If one of us is a few minutes late, the other one will stand expectantly until we both put our work away.

Salad lunch healthyRebecca Harrington/InsiderI’m finally content eating salad now that I can make it at home with the proper ratio of meat and cheese.

Sometimes I take a little more than 30 minutes if I feel like I need it, and sometimes I spend most of the break dancing around the kitchen, then race to make food. But the important part is that I take a break doing what feels good, and give my brain a chance to recharge.

I always come back from lunchtime feeling energised and ready to tackle the rest of my day.

Science says taking breaks is good for you

Research backs up my experience that taking breaks is good for your body and your productivity.Neuroscientists have found that the brain is anything but idle when we’re daydreaming, as a 2013 piece from Scientific American notes.

When we’re taking breaks, our brains get a chance to debrief information we gathered and make sense of it. This process reminds me of learning in college biology that we need sleep to make memories.

The same way that our bodies need rest after workouts, our brains need downtime after heavy use. For me, coordinating breaking news coverage about the pandemic has certainly qualified.

Alpacas farm horseRebecca Harrington/InsiderOn my lunch breaks, I can also go in the backyard to visit the farm animals, which is comforting, too.

One compelling study that Psychology Today highlighted found that people were more creative and came up with more solutions when walking than when sitting. Those who walked outside scored the best. “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity,” the Stanford researchers concluded.

Working remotely has forced me to think critically about how much being “on” is affecting my mental health, and draw those previously elusive work-life boundaries. Warding off burnout is top of mind.

The simple act of physically closing my laptop feels powerful – like I’m drawing a real, tactile boundary between work and life. Since our work spaces are our life spaces when working from home, these little actions are important.

I feel lucky and grateful to be employed and able to work remotely through this pandemic. I know if there’s one habit I’m going to keep with me whenever we return to the office, it’s taking a lunch break.

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