13 Energizing Afternoon Habits That Can Make the Rest of Your Day So Much Better

Here’s an undeniable truth: Even if you enjoy work, focusing on it all day can be mentally exhausting and straight-up stressful. Taking breaks in the form of rejuvenating afternoon habits—even teensy ones—can help. Personally, I’ve found that after sitting at a computer all day, my head starts to get fuzzy and my eyes have a hard time focusing on the screen by around 2 P.M. Words stop coming easily to me. I find myself scrolling on Twitter or Instagram and not actually doing the work that needs to get done. So, I take a break. Most days, that means going for a 30-minute walk around my town and maybe to the park. Other days, it means spending 15 minutes in my garden or fussing over my houseplants. I find that taking a total mental break from work and doing anything other than sitting down is exactly what my brain needs to reset. I always go back to my laptop with a clearer, more focused mind that’s ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Turns out, mental health experts recommend this kind of activity-switching to refocus and re-energize. Dave Spiegel, M.D., associate chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, director of the Center on Stress and Health, and medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, refers to it as a “state change” because you’re actively switching your mental focus to something new. “State change is in itself refreshing. Changing mental states is a way of helping you not to feel so trapped in whatever the situation is,” he tells SELF, “because the same problem looks different when you’re in a different mental state.” If a task or deadline is stressing you out, sometimes taking a break and looking at it again later is just what you need.

Of course, sometimes you need a lot more than just a little afternoon gardening to get through a bad day. “There are times when you’re really distressed and not doing well and need to just survive in that moment,” Kaz Nelson, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Minnesota Medical School, tells SELF. If you often find yourself feeling distressed and like you need better tools to handle that, it’s worth speaking with a therapist or other mental health professional if you can to learn some tools to help you get through those difficult times. What we’re talking about here is more combatting that afternoon slump—when you feel tired, unfocused, overwhelmed, and want to clear your head and boost your mood to get through the rest of the day.

Next time you’re feeling that way, try adding one (of a few!) of these brilliant, energizing afternoon habits into your day. Some of them require more time, energy, and overall flexibility than others, so they might not all work for you depending on your exact work (and life!) situation. But, hopefully, they provide a bit of inspiration for working your way out of that dreaded afternoon slump—or avoiding it entirely.

1. Read a chapter in a fiction book.

Madison D., 29, spends about 15 minutes during her lunch break reading a fiction book and finds that it usually helps her reset and clear her mind for the rest of the day. Reading a book—and completely immersing yourself in that fictional world—is a form of changing your mental state so that you can come back to the task at hand with a clear head. “Disconnecting, focusing on something else, and then re-engaging can pry you out of that state of being stuck or demoralized in dealing with what you’re dealing with,” Dr. Spiegel says. ”That act of getting disconnected and reconnected can reduce stress.”

2. Make an elaborate and visually appealing snack (charcuterie board, anyone?).

When Kelly O., 31, starts to hit the afternoon slump around 2 or 3 P.M., she whips up a charcuterie board. “It’s way less fancy than it sounds, but it feels more elegant than Cheez -Its straight from the box,” she says. She includes things like pretzel chips, hummus, salami slices, cheese, sliced avocado, and whatever else is in the fridge. And then, she takes the time to enjoy every bite. “I savor each little stack, and for a moment forget that it’s month 16 of WFH during a global pandemic.” While the energy boost certainly doesn’t hurt, it’s also just something that Kelly looks forward to and enjoys during an otherwise-mundane workday. Here are some healthy, delicious snack ideas to get you started.

3. Take an organization break.

“Tidying or organizing the physical space around you might feel like a little thing, but it’s a way to physically and proactively attend to yourself and care for your space,” Dr. Nelson says. “Oftentimes, people put themselves last, particularly in the context of work, but pausing and attending to your immediate space is really saying, ‘My time and workspace are worth my attention.’” This can help put your mind at ease and improve your mood, Dr. Nelson says. “Organized” can mean something different to everyone—so you don’t have to go all Marie Kondo on your desk if that would stress you out instead of relax you. Whatever helps you feel a little more pulled together and focused is what matters.

4. Resist the urge to pound more coffee.

We know it sounds counterintuitive, but Dr. Nelson recommends avoiding turning to mood-altering substances—like your BFF caffeine—to power through a long, stressful afternoon. “The negative sides can supersede the immediate positive effects,” she says. A good example: You down a late-afternoon coffee, and now you can’t fall asleep when you try to get to bed because you’re too wired. Then you feel more on edge and stressed and overwhelmed the next day because you didn’t get a good night’s rest. Dr. Nelson suggests swapping that afternoon mug for a different beverage that you enjoy drinking and making that your new PM habit. For example, maybe it’s sparkling water with lime if you’re after some zing, or an herbal tea if what you crave is a warm, nourishing liquid.

5. Watch a mindless 30-minute TV show.

Yes, we’re recommending TV in the middle of the workday if you can swing it. It can help you get a much-needed mental break the same way reading a good book can. Annie D., 36, opts for a show that’s only a half-hour episode and that will make her laugh. “Something mindless, like Friends or Younger, and the rule is only one episode,” she says. (Need some ideas? Check out one of these 17 shows that are delightful and distracting.)

6. Take an actually energizing nap.

If you’re good at napping (so, it won’t make you even groggier), make time for a short one midday. Amy K., 38, takes a very short nap in the afternoon. She times them to be eight minutes and 13 seconds long, to be exact. “The 13 seconds gives me time to put my arms down after setting the time on my watch timer,” she says. Amy curls up on her recliner with a heating pad behind her and an electric blanket on, too—”I’m basically in a cocoon.” She notes that the ritual of turning on the blankets and getting into her spot probably helps set the scene so her body and brain know it’s time for a quick snooze. Here’s exactly how to power nap so you wake up with more energy, not less—and so you don’t disturb your nighttime slumber, either.

7. Take a virtual workout class.

So many fitness studios and trainers now teach online classes—something that looks to be sticking around, in some capacity, for the foreseeable future, even as IRL classes start up again. Annie loves taking a dance workout class when she needs to clear her head and re-energize in the afternoon. “It always wakes me up because they play great music, like Radiohead, The Killers, and Neil Young,” Annie says. Most at-home fitness apps offer a variety of class lengths, so you can do just 10 minutes if you want—it’ll still effectively get your blood pumping and perk you up a bit so you’re ready to go for the rest of the day. “A few minutes of exercise makes a big difference [in relieving stress],” Dr. Spiegel says. Here are a few places to find this type of afternoon-ready workout:

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