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How to brighten up your days at the desk

Three Ways to Look After Yourself in the Workplace

Amin
Rahman
Digital Marketing apprentice

For nearly 8 hours a day, our bottoms are stuck firmly onto our chairs. We are so busy typing away that we lose ourselves in the process.

We forget that we come first, and work comes second. And we resort to bad habits: we eat our lunch at our desk, we get lost in multi-tasking work tasks, or we forget to shut our eyes and breathe for a bit.

Here are three easy tips that will help you manage your load and give you some much-needed headspace:

1. Your lunch break is sacred

That hour you get free is special, don’t waste it.  And don’t EVER eat your lunch at your desk, or work so mindlessly that you forget to take a break.

We’re all used to a mountain of work, deadlines and sapping energy levels… not to mention that ferocious yawn, which usually signals that you’ve arrived at the midpoint of the working day.

So, switch off and unwind by going for a lunchtime walk in your break.  

In the New York Times, researchers from the University of Birmingham found that participants who followed a routine of taking a 30-minute lunchtime walk felt: “enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed and able to cope than on afternoons when they hadn’t walked...”.

Participants would answer questions on how they felt, their enthusiasm and their workload for the day - many resulting in higher levels of wellbeing and improved productivity.

I try and go for walks on my breaks now and it’s always refreshing to get some fresh air (yes, even in pollution-ridden London..) and I feel much less like a zombified worker who can’t wait for the clock to just hit 5pm. Giving my brain a mental rest and being away from the desk gives me the willpower to finish the day on a high.

And there’s one place I love to go when going on my lunch-time walk...

Find a local park near your workplace

The British mental health organisation Mind, in its Ecotherapy report, recommended that: “'Green exercise’ be considered as a clinically valid treatment for people experiencing mental distress..."

When I first started my apprenticeship, I felt lonely, anxious, and was on the verge of doubting if the whole thing was right for me. I would escape my pain by going walking through Clapham Common on my lunch break - a massive urban park with 220 acres of green space.

 And I would always find something that would stop me in my tracks - a moment in time that would bring stillness. It could be something as small as noticing the loving relationship between a dog and its owner, or an old couple holding hands and rekindling their love.

More interesting is perhaps my new obsession with tree photography, as my Instagram timeline would confess to.

There’s nothing quite like Mother Nature. A study saw people exhibiting positive emotions (awe, wonder, gratitude and reverence) after viewing just a few minutes of Planet Earth… imagine the effect of the real thing, even at the minuscule level of a local park.

So find some green space. And start walking in your lunch break!

If you need help locating parks near your work office - you can use this online tool.

2. Appreciate the present moment

“…every day was the same, and when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day the sun rises." -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

We are:

Distracted.

Lost in thought.

Overwhelmed.

We forget about the ‘here and now’, as we live a life on autopilot - unaware of our thoughts, feelings and the world around us.

A lot of times we sleepwalk into our decisions, we get to our destination without remembering the car journey, or we eat an entire pack of pringles, when we said we will snack a little.

We get carried away in thought. The act of mindfulness is about returning, again and again to the present moment - an awareness of where you are and what you are doing, free from distraction and judgement.

But remember.

The mind will wander and that’s not inherently bad – It’s part of human nature. And you can’t literally control your thoughts, it’s impossible. The goal here is to catch yourself in the moment, to witness, not to control.

As Mindful.org put brilliantly:

“When we practise mindfulness, we’re practising the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.”

Mindfulness aims to help you:

·        become more self-aware

·        feel calmer and less stressed

·        feel more able to choose how to respond to your thoughts and feelings

·        cope with difficult or unhelpful thoughts

·        be kinder towards yourself

(Source: Mind, British Mental Health)

3 popular mindfulness exercises

Mindfulness can be cultivated in different ways and techniques. The following three can be implemented during your lunch break, or time before/after work.

  1. Mindful meditation. Try and find a quiet place in your office - start by focusing on your breathing and the sensations you feel in your body. If you notice that your mind wanders, return back to the breath.

Be kind to your mind and don’t obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in, just come back to your breath...It acts as the anchor to the present moment.

There are many guided meditation apps like Headspace, Calm and Waking Up, that can help introduce and explain in depth about how the mindbehaves and offer walkthroughs on certain meditation techniques.

2. Mindful eating. It’s taking the time to really focus on what we are putting into our mouths. It’s about noticing the colours, the textures, the smell and being present during our lunch breaks.

We’re either distracted by our phones or eating lunch on our desk and browsing on the web, or lost in thought that we aren’t aware of what’s going inside.

I’ve tried to eat mindfully, which is difficult to maintain consistently. But I’ve slowed down the pace of consumption, felt grateful that I am blessed to eat such tasty food, and stopped this endless need to constantly snack or not feel satisfied.

This exercise should be explored further in your own reading - there’s an interesting guide by Healthline that goes in depth on the steps of implementing this in your life.

3.   Mindful movement. A lot of times when I’m commuting to work, I either get lost in thought, or daze off into oblivion.

The common theme in these exercises is showing our inability to be present in all aspects of our life, from eating, to walking. We are busy remembering, planning and analysing life that we forget to experience life.

Next time you walk on a lunch break, or travel to work: notice how your body feels, does it feel heavy, light, stiff, or relaxed? Notice what’s around you: cars, other people, roads and observe the colours, shapes movement and stillness of everything around you.

To learn more about mindful walking,you can read this guide created by Headspace.

3. Connect with others

In Johann Hari’s book Lost Connection, he cites a “disconnection from people” as one of the primers for depression and anxiety.

Humans have always been social creatures who have evolved to thrive and cooperate in “tribes”, just like bees need hives to function. Yet in a connected world like ours, loneliness is a growing issue of our times.

Hari explains further in his book that loneliness is not the physical absence of people...Imagine standing in a busy public space, you won’t be alone, there will be thousands of people, but you will feel lonely.

He goes on to say that to end loneliness, you need other people, but you need to share something with the other person/group that is of meaning and value. If you aren’t sharing your joy or distress or anything that matters, then you’re nothing to the people around you, and they’re nothing to you.

In a lot of workplaces, relationships have no meaning and are void of any connection. It is important that we do not forget the human side of our colleagues: from their little quirks to their wide dreams and passions.

Try building a closer connection with your colleagues and team, there’s something I recommend called ‘lunch dates’. This is great for those whose colleagues insist on eating their lunch at their desks and can be a great space to build your connection and “tribe”.

“It's up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.” -Anonymous

As we say goodbye to Mental Health Awareness month, it is important to remember that our mental wellbeing comes first over everything.

I hope these three tips can be practically applied to your day - remember that your lunch break is sacred, the power of mindfulness is real and to not deprive your need for human connection.

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