The dreaded afternoon slump... We all recognise the symptoms – drowsiness, foggy thoughts and a total, utter lack of ambition – but can rarely fathom solutions beyond hoovering a stack of biscuits from the office jar or from your pantry. Maybe you’ve resigned yourself to accomplishing your best work in the mornings and perhaps resenting anything new that comes up after 3pm.

Some of this trouble is explained by circadian rhythms: Your body’s internal clock gives you a natural dip in energy in the afternoon (hence the culture of siestas, which hasn’t made it to the typical Australian workplace yet). But if you use your lunch hour well, the afternoon can be downright delightful. And while what you eat matters, it’s not the whole story.

“Lunch is about not just refuelling, but also reenergising for the afternoon,” explains workplace health expert Dr Blake Ashforth. Like batteries, you need recharging to complete the day. ‘Recovery’ is a term used to describe the process that reduces exhaustion, improves energy and concentration abilities, and increases job satisfaction. It happens during all kinds of breaks – holidays, weekends and evenings – even when they’re as short as a lunch break, explains psychologist Dr Emily Hunter.

Here’s how you can make the most of whatever time you can spare.

1. Eat Your Omegas 

If you’ve been having the same sandwiches every day, reconsider your midday menu. Foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in protein often worsen sleepiness and concentration trouble – as can eating larger portions and kilojoule-dense meals. 

So forgo that sanga with a single slice of cheese or meat, or sushi with its ever-so-tiny portion of fish and hefty amount of rice, and seek out options with a variety of ingredients, in particular omega fatty acids, which may help with cognitive function. Omega fatty acids are found in foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts and fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. Try a generous green salad topped with a combo of salmon, walnuts, seeds, feta cheese and avocado. Or go for some Greek yoghurt mixed with flaxseed and chia, muesli and blueberries. “More variety and volume will sustain you and give your muscles and brain fuel,” says nutritionist Dr Monica Laudermilk. 

2. Walk around the block

Taking a stroll during your lunch break can improve your enthusiasm, relaxation and creative thinking, research indicates. A post-meal walk outside also helps digestion and provides sunshine-derived vitamin D, Dr Laudermilk points out. Eating and then just sitting around (verses walking) may lead to a sluggish afternoon, so step on it. You can do it indoors, but nothing beats getting outside.

3. Drink Water Or Tea

Mental fatigue is associated with dehydration, notes Dr Laudermilk. “Two glasses of water can help you make good choices at lunch,” she says. Try to have 250ml right before lunch, then the same amount after lunch. If you’re already well hydrated, “teas, such as matcha, green and black tea, can give you a boost of energy that lasts,” she says, but without coffee’s harsh spikes. According to one study, green tea increased energy and relaxation, which can help you pay sustained attention and avoid distractions throughout the day.

4. Go For The Green

You might concentrate better, find more creative solutions and improve your all-around cognitive function after spending time in natural settings, shows research from around the world. A 20-minute urban park visit boosted wellbeing, according to one US study. German researchers also found that participants concentrated better, had increased energy and felt better on days when they took 15-minute park strolls compared with non-park days. Walking in a forest might even improve perception, thinking, reasoning and remembering, along with mood, as per a Korean study.

If you’re flat out and can’t get outside, a study showed that viewing something like a computer image of a rooftop with a robustly flowering green meadow for just 40 seconds improved task attention and decreased errors compared with looking at a plain concrete roof. Try adding a desktop wallpaper with a delightful green scene to your computer, the researchers suggest.

5. Grab a Game

All work and no play makes you...ineffective, it turns out. In a study, 26 employees in South Africa were divided into two groups: one that played games at lunchtime and another that took their regular lunch break. Those who played games were more likely to successfully ‘detach’ from their work during lunch than those who didn’t play. In the afternoon, they performed better as a team, and participants reported feeling more focused and more positive. So, do a puzzle, start a round of Words with Friends, or bust out the cards for an old-fashioned game of Solitaire!

6. Watch Some Comedy

If you must untangle a difficult problem in the afternoon, get yourself laughing at lunch. In one study, 124 Aussie students were assigned a truly dull task – crossing out the letter ‘E’ on two pages of writing. Then they watched either an eight-minute funny clip, a relaxation video or a straightforward video on management. Comedy-clip viewers showed increased persistence on the next assignment – an unsolvable HR task. So, cue up a chuckle next time a dilemma hits.

7. Have a Lie Down

Napping can recharge your brain for an afternoon of productivity, particularly if you’ve spent the morning learning a new skill. As you learn, your brain is like a room that gets cluttered with pieces of paper. If you can enter deep-wave sleep, your brain organises the papers so you’re starting fresh when you wake up. “Even a power nap of 10 to 15 minutes can restore learning capability,” says medical professor Dr M. Felice Ghilardi. Of course, napping is possible only if you have a place to snooze uninterrupted, such as your car, a park or a quiet corner in your home office. You could also try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), in which you slowly tense a muscle group as you breathe in, then relax it as you breathe out. One study found that a 20-minute PMR lunchtime break reduced afternoon strain compared with making small talk at lunch.

8. Brighten Up Your Workspace

If a quick snooze isn’t possible, fire up the lights. In a study, subjects either napped, were exposed to bright light enhanced with energising blue light, or did whatever they wanted just after eating lunch. The blue-light group experienced decreased fatigue and had better accuracy when switching tasks, as if they’d napped. Try increasing your laptop’s brightness around lunchtime, or get natural blue light by sitting near a window.

9. Do whatever you want!

The simple act of choosing your own lunchtime activity may be more important than what you opt to do. Experiencing having control over your lunch break in a way that maximises relaxation and relating to others can help you feel more engaged, reenergised and confident, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology. What gets you revved for the afternoon might not work for someone else, and vice versa. “Feel free to experiment,” Dr Ashforth says. “Different people need different things. Try mixing it up, because it gets stale to do the same thing at the same time every day.”

Tags:  foodhealthmind