Working with PTSD: Take That Lunch Break

Working with PTSD has a lot of challenges, particularly if you are prone to feeling overwhelmed or if you have a fast-paced job.

For most of my career (and like a lot of Americans) I’ve worked in settings in which lunch breaks were sometimes ignored in favor of getting more work done faster, or because meeting schedules didn’t accommodate lunch. I’ve eaten at my desk more times than I can count (including in the last year) or eaten really quickly/in the car on the road/not at all and starved all afternoon…you get the picture.

Lunch breaks matter, even if it’s only half an hour. The practice of setting aside work to take care of your needs (food, water, sunshine, fresh air, exercise, errands, etc.) is so important to managing PTSD successfully and being able to have the energy and focus to work through the afternoon (or other time of day if you aren’t on an 8-5 schedule).

I have been really terrible at this. I pushed through with zero regard for my needs for so long that the habit of not taking a lunch break is now ingrained in my work practice, and after working for myself for three years I still get caught up in needing to GET WORK DONE rather than make sure I’m feeling good so that I have the ability to work effectively and productively.

It doesn’t help that work is how I’ve coped with anxiety for well over a decade.

What is happening when I don’t step away from my desk for an hour, when I stay hunched over my laptop and dead set on crossing off items on my to-do list, is that I am numbing and not being aware of how I feel or how I’m working. When I’m numbing I’m not creative, not fully engaged and not producing my best work. I’m just now waking up to this reality at a time that I have made such a point about working at least 45 hours a week, because that’s the time goal I set before the start of the year to try to get up to a production level that keeps my company successful.

flat lay photography of laptop computer calculator newspaper and smartphone
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I worked retail for several years, and it was no different there. Especially during the holidays I wouldn’t stop to eat or rest until I was off the clock for the day, and my coworkers would be on my case about taking a lunch break. I didn’t want or need their interference, but now that I do need those breaks, I’m less likely to take them because of longstanding habit.

At some point in my life I got the message that work is more important than my well being, and I’ve believed it and lived it. But it turns out the opposite is true: No work is more important than my well being, and now that I live with PTSD, my well being is that much more determining of my ability to work. My bad days aren’t a mood, they’re panic-inducing anxiety and physical pain.

Taking breaks, checking in with myself and moving around – plus not rushing through eating and stepping away from my desk – and not numbing by staying stuck on work tasks might be the best thing I do for myself this year, and it’s long overdue.

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