10 ways to beat the afternoon slump
Here's how to stay energized and focused when facing the all-too-common afternoon slump
If you're like many people, shortly after lunch your head begins buzzing, your concentration plummets, your eyes droop and the top of your desk begins to look as cozy as a feather mattress. There are many plausible theories for the midday dips: the morning surge of hormones has petered out; some degree of “brain tedium” – in other words, boredom – has set in. Or it may have something to do with what you ate; all meals divert blood from your brain to your gut but some foods also bump up levels of the soporific hormone serotonin.
Before and during lunch…
• Head outside and sit in the daylight for 10 minutes. Better still, have your lunch outside and divide your break between eating and a walk. Here's why: your office probably has about 500 luxes of light, which is equal to about 500 candles. That compares with 10,000 luxes at sunrise and 100,000 at noon on a July day. So when the afternoon doldrums hit, go outside and sit in the sunlight. It will help reset your chronological clock, keep down the amount of melatonin (the sleep hormone) your body produces during this circadian dip and give you a valuable boost of beneficial vitamin D, reducing your risk of osteoporosis as well as various cancers.
• Snack all day long. Simply snack on nutritious foods whenever you get hungry, rather than eating lunch per se – but watch portion sizes. Then use your lunch break for some kind of exercise, whether it's in the company gym or walking around a park.
• Choose activating protein not energy-sapping carbs. So a tuna salad without the bread is a better choice than a tuna sandwich. A green salad sprinkled with low-fat cheese, a hard-boiled egg and some sliced turkey wins over a pasta salad. The change can really make a difference. When researchers compared men who ate a 1,000 calorie lunch with those who ate a 300 calorie lunch or skipped the meal altogether, they found that when given a chance to nap after lunch, nearly all of the participants did so. But while the lunch-eaters slept for an average of 90 minutes, those who skipped lunch slept for only 30 minutes. These were also high-carbohydrate lunches (carbs stimulate serotonin release, which increases sleepiness), which may have contributed to the napping. You shouldn't skip lunch altogether, but the combination of eating less and eating fewer carbohydrates should lead to less sleepiness.
• Enjoy teatime. Get into the routine of a midafternoon cup. It's a good step towards beating the afternoon doldrums thanks to that little bit of a caffeine burst and the few quiet minutes it entails. The aim is not to munch down scones and clotted cream, but you can do better than a tea bag dunked in your unwashed coffee mug. Keep a selection of exotic flavoured teas (preferably caffeinated) in your office and an aesthetically pleasing cup just for tea. When the doldrums hit, brew yourself a cup and sit somewhere quiet (not your office) to sip and reflect. The meditative time will soothe your frenzied brain, while the caffeine will give you just enough of a kick-start to get you through the rest of your day.
• Make an "I was thinking of you" phone call. To your wife, child, siblings, parents, a friend or a retired colleague. A 5 minute keep-in-touch call will lift your spirits for hours and reinvigorate you to get your work done.
• Go for a 10 minute walk and resist that chocolate bar. When American researchers compared study participants who ate a chocolate bar or who walked briskly for 10 minutes, they found the chocolate bar subjects felt more tense in the hour afterwards, while those who walked not only had higher energy levels for 1 to 2 hours afterwards, but also reduced their tension.
• Put a drop of peppermint oil in your hand and briskly rub your hands together, then rub them over your face (avoid your eyes). Peppermint is a known energy-enhancing scent.
• Do your filing. It's a physical activity that gets you up from your desk, bending and pulling and stretching. Plus, you can lose yourself in it, and any activity that enables you to get into a "flow" will help to pull you through the doldrums.
• Take 10 minutes for isometric exercises. Isometric exercises involve nothing more than tensing a muscle and holding it. For instance, with your arm held out, tense your biceps and triceps at the same time and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. You can do this with your calf muscles, thigh muscles (front and back), chest, abdomen, buttocks, shoulders and back. If you wanted to, you could work a rotation, or cycle, of isometric exercises involving almost your entire body into your desk job every day. The total workout would be quite significant, despite never interrupting your work or causing you to break into a sweat. Plus, you're not only toning your body, you're toning your mind.
All day long…
• Weave variety into your working day. Tedium taxes the mind and induces somnolence. Most studies suggest that concentration on anything wanes after an hour, and is pretty near to pitiful at 90 minutes. So divide your tasks to maximize a balance between variety and productivity. For instance, if you have a large report you need to get out, work on it for 30 minutes, switch to something else for 30 minutes, then return to it.
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