The one tiny change I made to my workday that has had a huge mental-health payoff


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Photo: Getty Images/Leland Bobbe

This year, I planned my wedding and got married; I tacked on a restorative vacay to the tail end of trip for a friend’s destination wedding; and when a role opened up at work that aligned with my personal interests and general career goals, I raised my hand to make the shift. But I wouldn’t call any of those things the most impactful wellness change I made for myself in 2018. That, rather, would be my conscious decision to leave the office at lunchtime each day for a break.

Dream big, right? Well, it’s actually a bit tricky when taking that break—to stretch your legs, breathe some fresh air, give your mind a break, and grab some nourishment—directly conflicts with another priority: packing a lunch to benefit your financial health. And sure, when I have a hankering, I treat myself to a designer salad or poké bowl or grain bowl or whatever other lunch option is available near Well+Good’s headquarters in New York City (most likely, it’s in a—you guessed it—bowl). But I want that to remain the exception to the rule because, frankly, my packed lunches generally do fulfill me.

Alas, the arrangement was flawed: I routinely let pass entire days, which gave way to weeks and months (yep, months), without leaving the office at all from the time I arrived in the morning until I left for the day. I’d barely even get up from my desk. Worse than not leaving the building to experience the magic of natural light, I often didn’t even bother myself to stand up. If I had to pee, hours would disintegrate before I’d walk the, oh, 50 steps to the bathroom and let nature take its course. (Hey, I just wanted to finish one more thing! Or answer one more question! Or get through one more meeting!) Really, it’s a wonder I’ve never had a bladder infection or a UTI.

I routinely let pass entire days, which gave way to weeks and months (yep, months), without leaving the office at all from the time I arrived in the morning until I left for the day.

So while my money-saving M.O. for bringing my lunch is definitely earnest and true, it’s not the only reason I’d spend days on end chained to my desk: I’m also awful at stopping what I’m doing to be off-task and offline for the 10 or 15 minutes I need to grab some grub (or even 1 to 3 minutes to freaking urinate). The result is that most days, by the time I’m ready to head home, I’m running on sloth-level energy stores. Does heading outside to buy lunch fix that? Certainly not. But shifting my gaze from my laptop screen does provide some perspective that helps everything feel more manageable during extraordinarily busy days.

Still, when you bring your own desk lunch, it’s tough to find another reason to go outside and take a break for the sake of your blue-light-scorned eyes, stress levels, and general sanity. The obvious solution is getting an afternoon coffee, but I try not to drink caffeine after 3 p.m. (I have enough trouble falling asleep at night) and buying an herbal tea or decaf coffee just feels too extra.

The solution I’ve settled on is two-fold. First, by not bringing my lunch at least once a week, I’m forced to enjoy one of those designer salads. And second, when a coworker messages me to ask if I’d like to go pick up lunch, I go for the walk, even if I packed my meal at home. While I don’t make good on my Let’s Move Outside! initiative every single day, on days that I do, I feel far less lethargic for the remainder of the workday. Moving out from under the fluorescent lights at work, even if just for a few minutes, is the best thing I’ve done for my mental health this year without really interrupting any major component of my workday.

I think of it like removing a magnifying glass from the burning ants for a hot second to let ‘em literally live or taking a quick snooze whenever, wherever. In 2019, I’ve resolved to keep my Treat Yo’self to 10 Minutes platform going, regardless of my or my coworkers’ lunch plans. So, let me know if you’ve got awesome podcast recommendations (I’ve also promised myself to listen to more of those next year), because sometime between noon and 3 p.m., most days a week, I’ll be taking a lap around the block, smelling fresh air, and investing in my daily happiness.

Another personal upgrade I could certainly stand to make in 2019? Improving my posture. These desk stretches might help.

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