How to Take a Mental Break When You Can’t Leave Your Desk
The art of digital flaneuring.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:51 AM
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Going for a walk without an exact destination in mind, not immediately turning on your podcast or playlist, taking in the sights as you see them—this is what a flaneur does. The practice (and term) originated in 19th-century Paris, but the idea of idle wandering is just as relevant, if not more so, today. When you’re constantly plugged in, logged on, and oversaturated with all kinds of media—you’re reading this on a screen right now!—it’s hard not to feel burned out. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to take a stroll.
Of course, sometimes you don’t have the option to leave your cubicle and you need a little bit of stress relief delivered in, say, five minutes or so. Not to worry—you can still channel your inner flaneur. In an excerpt from her new book, The Art of Flaneuring: How to Wander With Intention and Discover a Better Life, author Erika Owen explains exactly how:
I get it: taking a walk every day just isn’t an option for everyone, and I feel that right in the center of my soul. During the workweek, I’m generally going from meeting to meeting or am stuck at my desk answering never-ending emails. My work-life balance grievances are friends with your work-life balance grievances. But you can get some of the benefits of flaneuring without actually going outside.
Go on a Mental Google Earth Vacation
Stick with me here; this is a thing. I cannot count the number of stressful moments that have been smashed after 10 minutes of exploring, say, the south coast of Iceland on Google Earth. If you have a moment to get away from your desk, find a quiet place in your office, choose a favorite playlist on your headphones, bring your computer or phone, and pull up Google Earth. Lose yourself in the terrain and street scenes of a different world. Even if it’s just for a few moments, it may help ease your stress and lighten the weight of reality.
Stretch It Out
Moving your body is important for a lot of reasons, but it can also help you keep your head on straight. If you can’t escape your workload, take one minute to do some stretching. One of my favorite stretches is also one of the most embarrassing to see someone do (if that doesn’t say something about my personality, I don’t know what does).
Position yourself in a deep squat. Make sure your legs are a little more than hip-width apart with a slight angle to your feet (align your toes so they’re pointing the same way your knees are). From there, make it more awkward and put your hands in a prayer grasp between your legs and drive your elbows into the insides of your knees. You should feel the stretch deep in your hip adductors. You should also look as if you’re taking a camping-style bathroom break. Once you’re fully stretched in the legs, stand up and reach your arms as far above your head as possible. Arch your back, take a deep breath, and slowly lower your arms to your sides. Consider this the first step in just feeling better, a task you can continue into your workday flaneuring.
While you’re going through these steps, do not think about a thing. You can handle that for a few seconds of stretching. Give your brain the simple task of feeling: Take account of how it feels to stretch your body, release any tension you’ve got building up right out of the tips of your fingers, and breathe. Do not forget to breathe.
Try Being a Cyberflaneur
If you’ve ever found yourself in a deep hole of Chrome tabs highlighting the various outfits Meghan Markle has worn in the past four years, you’ve practiced cyberflaneuring. The idea is the same as physical flaneuring: Go where your brain takes you, don’t question it, and take careful note of your environment. If you can’t leave your desk for an actual walk, turn to the Internet. Start with one topic—say, bonsai—and click on whatever piques your interest. Don’t worry about whether your click hole makes sense; just let it happen.
If you’ve done it right, you’ll find a wonderful mix of topics at the end of your cyberadventure. On a recent cyberflaneuring session, I found myself with these tabs after 15 minutes of exploring: a quick-start guide to crocheting, a list of waterfalls to visit in Iceland, a gallery of cute Samoyed photos, a spoiler article on the most recent season of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and a list of Airbnbs for Des Moines, Iowa. What a wonderfully specific look into my life.
One thing to keep in mind: time. Give yourself a set break since, you know, the Internet never ends and it’s way too easy to get caught up in YouTube videos of people tripping or dogs bouncing on trampolines.
Take a Lap
Okay, technically this requires you to leave your desk…but you don’t have to leave your office. Keeping a water bottle at my desk may be the best thing I’ve ever done for my hydration and mental health at work. Think of it this way: If things get tense or overwhelming, you always have an excuse to walk away. Fill up your water bottle. Even if it means chugging half of that bottle before you can add more, you always have a reason to walk away. Take the long way to the water fountain.
During that time, promise me you won’t think about work. Even better: Think about nothing. You deserve a break.
From The Art of Flaneuring by Erika Owen, published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.