Replace caffeine with exercise to shake off your midday slump

Have yoga for lunch

Feel like you’ve hit a wall? Drowning in your to-do list? Sounds like you’re on a workday rollercoaster that crashes every day between 1:30 and 3 p.m. Some people call it a “lunch coma,” while others dub it the “workday slump,” but either way, it’s that time of day when we all just want to take a siesta. (Those Spaniards got it right!)

There’s no question that productivity, creativity and energy take a major dive midday, which is normally when we get the unavoidable urge to refill our coffee mugs or hit up the vending machine for a caffeine fix. Sure, the socially accepted drug masks the exhaustion and gives us a boost, but a short hour or two later, we’re back to square one and feeling crappier than ever.

I was seriously guilty of caffeine overdose when I worked in the corporate tech environment. Throwing back a Red Bull or brewing a fresh cup of espresso in the employee lounge was a ritual! I remember hearing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” just as I was crashing and it hit me — her ultra-famous hit was my mid-afternoon anthem. I needed something to help me shake off the drowsy, creative block that prevented me from doing much of anything.

I found something that truly gave me wings: endorphins.

Elle Woods got it right in “Legally Blonde”: endorphins DO make you happy! Your body releases these chemicals when you exercise. In addition to interacting with the receptors in your brain to lessen pain perception, endorphins trigger that positive, uplifting feeling commonly known as “runner’s high.” They make you feel good. Period. Work can make you downright irritable; endorphins can turn that irritability on its head. Research shows that employees who exercise midday go home feeling more satisfied with their day. Can you imagine going home satisfied every day?

Don’t just do it. Feel it!

When I made the switch from a coffee refill to a 30-minute exercise routine six months ago, I immediately recognized the difference in energy. I mixed up my routine pretty often with different DVD workouts — from cardio and strength training, to yoga and Pilates — but despite my raised heart rate on some days and meditation on others, I always felt rejuvenated.

According to a study on the potential effects of aerobic exercise on creative potential, one-third of participants who dedicated two and a half hours each week (that’s 30 minutes, five days a week) to exercise during work hours maintained or increased their productivity. That’s without the midday caffeine fix. And all of those participants spent less time in the office! Yep, that’s the power of the all-natural high you get from moving your body.

Isn’t working out in the morning better?

Some might argue that morning is the best time of day to exercise (for most of us it just depends on when we have time), but there’s no denying that fitness is an effective way to give your body a physical and mental boost during your work day. So whether you kick things off in the early a.m. before work, or take a 15-minute break mid-shift to take a brisk walk, the small changes you make to your routine can help you avoid mid-afternoon slumps.

You don’t have to get sweaty.

I know a big reason why I never worked out at the office was because of the not-so-attractive after-effect. When I exercise, my face gets fire engine red and I perspire profusely. Not a good look, right? Well, there are still ways to tackle a midday workout in the office without going full-force. Try a sun salutation yoga workout or go for a two 15-minute walks around the building. Simply moving at an above-average pace will do the trick.

If you’re still worried about your after-workout look on the job, here are some tips to help you look fresh to death, as opposed to looking like death. (Been there, done that.)

Find friends in low places.

Most everyone hits the low point of the day, so why not get some other people on board with your midday fitness routine? It’s never hard to find a friend to go on a coffee run with, so it can’t be too difficult to find some accountability partners to work it out with you. You’ll feel better and make some new friends, too!

How do you stave off the midday slump without caffeinating? Please share in the comments!

Genevieve Tuenge
Genevieve Tuenge is a writer, former small business owner and creative director. She's an avid supporter of local mom-and-pop shops, and has devoted much of her career to helping small businesses understand and access the tools and information they need to thrive online.