Taking a Lunch Break

Posted by: Alexandra Starks - Posted on:

I’ve written in previous posts how, in recent months, the scheme has overtaken every aspect of my life. Between working around 40 hours a week, putting 15 hours a week into UCL, and another 10 hours a week into Elizabeth Garett Anderson, plus meeting with second placements and sorting out flexis (that’s a 70+ hour work week, on average) I felt like I didn’t have a moment for myself. If I wasn’t doing work for the grad scheme, I was stressing out about things related to the grad scheme. I lost all perspective on my life. I stopped seeing friends, watching Netflix, reading books, listening to podcasts. Effectively, I stopped doing anything that could pull me out of the anxieties and stresses caused by being a trainee.

Then one day, when I just couldn’t deal with it anymore, I decided to take a lunch break. This may sound like a normal thing to do, except that nobody in my office takes them. Every single person sits at his or her desk and eats lunch while working. Although they would never think less of someone for taking a break if they needed it, they’re also all so busy that they don’t want to waste a single minute. Like many new starters, I fell into the no-lunch-break culture immediately upon joining my team, and hadn’t thought much about it since. But that day, I just had to get out of the office, and away from my computer screen. I went to the hospital canteen, and spent thirty minutes there, doing nothing but eating and drinking and listening to the chatter around me. The next day, I did the same thing, but I brought a book with me. I still eat a sandwich in the office some days, but about three days out of the week, I make a point of leaving the office for half an hour and sitting down with a hot meal and a good book. Just this, thirty minutes a few times a week, has made such a difference to my mental health.

It made such a difference, in fact, that I decided that I needed to reclaim a little more of my time. I now have an alarm on my phone for 7 PM, set to repeat every day of the week. Whatever happened that day – if I got given a big project, or submitted an assignment, if I was super productive, or got nothing done at all – the evening is no longer a time for work. At 7 PM, I very intentionally shut down Outlook, close all of the work and school related tabs, and do what I want to do. No work, no guilt. And, what do you know – I’m so much more productive now! I know that most hours of the day are for work, but some hours of the day are for me. I’m still working on reclaiming my life, but I’ve learned that there’s no problem too difficult or situation too stressful that it can’t be helped by taking a little lunch break. 

As always, feel free to find me on twitter @alexandrastrks if you have any questions or want to chat to a trainee!

Alexandra Starks

Hi, I'm Alexandra. I joined the Scheme in 2017, specialising in Health Informatics in London. Prior to joining the NHS, I did an BA in International Studies in the US—I'm Texan by birth!—spent time working in refugee resettlement, and then relocated to the UK to do an MSc in Global Health & Public Policy at Edinburgh University. As a non-Brit, I can thoroughly appreciate the value of the NHS, and hope to be able to contribute to it's future success!

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