Lunchtime Stress Relief Strategies

Why Lunchtime Might Be The Best Time For Stress Management

There are several effective ways to approach stress management. You can have a mix of short-term stress relievers that work for you in a pinch; these can calm you and reverse your body’s stress response when you’re feeling stressed. You can also maintain regular habits that build resilience toward stress; you don’t wait until you’re in a crisis to practice them, and they help you to feel less reactive to whatever stress comes your way. Ideally, if you can maintain a habit that promotes resilience toward stress, but also practice it at a time when you may have a moderate amount of stress to manage, you’ll experience some of both benefits.

This is why it’s a great idea to maintain a lunchtime stress relief habit. As most therapists and coaches will tell you, one of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy habit is to build it into your schedule by attaching it to something you’re already doing. Because we all eat lunch, attaching a habit to your lunch break is convenient and it works. It’s also a great time for stress management: you may have accumulated some stress from your day already, and relieving stress during lunch provides you with a chance to start fresh from a better place for the second half of the workday, and likely arrive home less stressed than you would have been at the end of the day.

There are many ways to fit some stress relief into your lunchtime window. The following are some of the most effective stress relievers you can practice—habits that really build resilience if practiced regularly—but this list is to get you started. If, after trying some of these, you begin coming up with your own routines, that’s great, too! Just as long as you’re doing something you can stick with and that works for you, you’re on the right track.

1
Practice Breathing Exercises With Visualizations

Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises can really relieve stress well, during lunch or at any other time. Creative RF/Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images

You'll be breathing during lunch, but you may as well make that breath work for you. Breathing exercises offer a wonderful, convenient form of stress relief. They can be practiced anywhere, and can help you to reverse your body's stress response when you're feeling overwhelmed, even as you attempt to deal with the stressor--not afterward.

The key to turning this tension tamer into a resilience builder is practice, so having a lunchtime habit that involves breathing exercises can really help you to relieve stress in the short term and the long run. To maximize the experience, I suggest that you add some visualizations to the exercise: envision yourself doing well as a challenge you currently face, vividly remember a success you experienced in the past, or just visualize yourself relaxing on the beach. The first two can help you to feel more confident at work, and the third can help you to feel like you've had a nice break. Either way, this can be a really helpful habit to maintain.

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2
Eat Mindfully

Mindful eating is great for stress relief.
Mindful eating can help you to lose weight and relieve stress at the same time. Zero Creatives/Cultura/Getty Images

Just like breathing, the chances are pretty certain that you'll be eating during your lunch break, but how you eat can transform the experience into a stress reliever. Mindful eating is a form of meditation that can also help you to relieve stress and potentially eat less while enjoying your food more. (This is perfect if you're also trying to stay in shape.) Just really focus on each bite you take, really enjoy the sensation of the food going down, and be in the present moment by noticing and focusing in on all of the physical sensations involved. This can make your meal feel more fulfilling and your stress feel further away.

3
Take A Brisk Walk

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A brisk walk at lunch can make your day less stressful. Adam Crowley/ Getty Images

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to manage stress. It provides an outlet for frustration, it releases endorphins to lift your mood, it brings long-term resilience if practiced regularly, and, in cases like walking, it can literally take you to a better place. If you work in an office, you may want to grab your shoes instead of your car when you go to lunch—find a place you can walk to, and let that be your stress relief. If you work from home, you can do the same thing, or you can take a walk around your neighborhood before or after you eat, as part of your lunch break. A bike ride works great, too!

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4
Find A Quiet Place

Being in nature can be immensely relaxing.
Being in nature can be immensely relaxing; it's a great idea to make this a habit. nature-outside-park-bench-Creative RM/ballyscanlon/Getty Images.jpg

Just finding a place to have some quiet time can be great for stress relief. If you’re able to find a bench in a beautiful park close to where you work or a seat by a fountain, the sights, sounds, and feel of nature can help you to feel more grounded and less entrenched in stress. Add a quiet meditation to the routine and you’ll be building resilience toward stress, and building a habit that can bring many other health benefits as well.

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5
Practice Office Yoga

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You don't need to sit on your desk to practice yoga effectively at work. Here's how and why. StockLib/ Getty Images

This one is definitely easier to do if you work from home, but there are some simple moves you can practice in an office, or even at your desk. If you have any privacy (or are comfortable enough with your co-workers), you can fit in some quick stretches. (This article on yoga you can do at your desk can give you some ideas.) This can relieve tension in your body and mind, especially if you are able to have a more robust yoga practice after work.

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6
Enjoy Music

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Listening to music can lift your spirits, energize you, and keep you focused on the present. And it's as easy as pressing "play.". Maskot/ Getty Images

You can energize  your body or relax it with the right music. You may have heard that classical music brings many benefits, but really, any type of music that you enjoy can bring a benefit. Music with a fast tempo really can energize your physiology, and music with a calm tempo can relax your body and mind. If you find lyrics that speak to you and the mood you’re currently in (or would like to be in), you then have a great low-effort way to relieve stress while you eat—or while you walk or drive to lunch. (If you’re self-conscious about sharing your tunes, earbuds are always nice to have.)

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7
Gratitude Journaling

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Gratitude journaling can get you into a better frame of mind. peter zelei/Getty Images

Changing your focus from what’s stressing you to what’s blessing you can have a real impact on your mood and your overall sense of wellbeing. I recommend that you maintain a daily list of three things you’re grateful for, which can lift your spirits, and has been linked by plenty of research with greater resilience and increased resources. This is because, when you’re in a better mood, you are more likely to see opportunities and take advantage of them. (See this research on positive affect for more of what I mean.) What a great state of mind to get into at work!

Getting more information on stress and resources to help you to manage it can help you to build habits that can help you to cope with stress once your stress response is triggered.

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