It’s tempting to grab lunch and return to your desk to finish up a project while you eat. After all, won’t you get more done if you keep trudging along?

Well, according to most researchers the answer is no. Cramming down a sandwich while you type with one hand will cause you to run out of steam by the end of the day.

Your brain needs a time-out from work. Taking a break–even a 15 minute one–could help you stay recharged for the rest of the day. And the best part is, you’ll leave the office feeling less stressed and more energized so you can enjoy your evenings.

But not all lunch breaks are created equal. Researchers recently examined lunch break activities to determine which one will help you feel your best.

Walk in the Park vs. Mindful Relaxation

There’s a lot of research that shows being in nature improves your attention and offers rejuvenation. And of course, physical activity can be great for your body as well as your brain.

Relaxation exercises–like progressive muscle relaxation and mindful meditation–can also give your brain a much-needed break and help you return to your afternoon projects feeling refreshed.

But which activity works best for reducing stress? Well, researchers decided to tackle this question.

The 2017 study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, reached several conclusions.

The most important conclusion was that people who engage in recovering activities during lunch breaks experience higher levels of well-being at the end of a working day. So regardless of which activity you engage in, you’ll concentrate better in the afternoon and feel more refreshed at the end of the day.

They concluded that mindful relaxation produced the best results. People who spent 15 minutes engaging in mindful relaxation exercises experienced more stress relief than those who took a leisurely stroll in the park.

Mindful Relaxation Exercises

There are many relaxation exercises that you can do right in the office. Here are a few examples of simple strategies that could help you return to work feeling refreshed:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation – Tense and relax your muscles, one muscle group at a time. Take some deep breaths and notice how your muscles feel when they’re relaxed. This will help you become better at recognizing when you’re tensing up so you can stay more relaxed throughout the day.
  • Deep breathing – There are many breathing exercises but belly breaths are one of the easiest. Put a hand on your stomach and breathe in through your nose. Let your belly push your hand out. Your chest shouldn’t move. Then, exhale slowly through pursed lips.
  • Mindfulness – Focus on a natural object within your immediate environment–a cloud, a rock, or the wood grain in your desk could work. Focus on it for a minute or two and visually explore it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Pay attention to the thoughts that enter your mind and when your mind wanders, refocus your attention. Be an observer and try to stay focused without passing judgment.

There are many audio recordings and apps that can help you learn relaxation practices. Keep in mind that relaxation techniques take practice–just like any other skill. So if you feel clumsy at first or you think they aren’t working, don’t give up. It gets easier with time.

Committing a mere 15 minutes of your lunch break to relaxation exercises can help you build the mental strength you need to power through the afternoon with relative ease.

But if you’re someone who really prefers a stroll through the park, that will help you too. Just make sure you aren’t wasting your lunch break working at your desk. Invest 15 minutes of your time into something that will help you do better and feel better for the rest of the day.

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