Fewer American workers are taking lunch breaks. About 1 in 5 American workers are stepping away from work to enjoy a midday meal or break. Most of us are eating at our desks, hunched over our work with some confused ideas circling our minds about why doing so is actually a good thing. It isn’t. (Interesting side note: it is mostly white collar and salaried workers who have given up lunches or are expected to work through them.)
1. Changing your environment can help you boost your creativity. The longer you’re in one spot, the lower your creativity dips. Creativity isn’t just for artists or designers, either. The way you approach problems of any kind is helped by a creative mind that constructs solutions.
2. Fresh approaches to work come from getting away from the work. Just like creativity, the “aha” moment that you’re needing to catch an error in a report, or adjust some project at the office is more likely to happen when you’re not sitting in the same spot for hours on end. A stroll to the local park may have you diving back in with new pizazz on your return.
3. Lunch breaks feed your brain. By making an exit and grabbing a lunch, your brain gets food, oxygen, and water, which lead to better work in the afternoon.
4. Breaks increase your productivity. Research has shown that if you take small breaks throughout the day, even if it isn’t a lunch, to do something creative or fun (think: coloring or a walk outside) you’re more productive.
5. Eating at your desk equals stress eating over time. We associate places with activities and no matter where you work, you likely experience stress in your work environment. Once your brain and body realize that eating at the desk is acceptable behavior, you’re likely to keep it up and do it more often. Snacking at your desk during high stress tides while your body is producing more cortisol can lead to a whole new issue: weight gain.
6. Taking a lunch sets a positive example and can establish a healthy habit in your workplace. Even if you work somewhere that taking a lunch break isn’t the norm and people typically gather around the conference table or sit at their desks while eating, you can help change things up. Peer pressure works in both directions! Instead of following along, invite some people to eat with you. The more of you that leave work behind to eat or take a walk during lunch, the more of you are likely to join in.
7. Breaks boost your concentration. Taking a lunch break that is even 15 to 20 minutes long can help improve your concentration! You’re more likely to catch mistakes, stay on task, and have focus when you return from a healthy lunch break.
8. Lunch is a great time to practice mindfulness. Enhance your mindfulness, which improves literally every aspect of your life. By eating during your lunch break and just eating you can be mindful of what you’re eating and use the time to tap into the mindful practice we all claim we haven’t got enough time for. Sitting quietly and focusing on your food and your changed environment is a small act of mindfulness that can go a long way.
9. Taking a lunch nap can rejuvenate your body and mind. Even if eating isn’t your “thing” and the idea of walking at lunch curls your toenails, there is always napping. Napping is Chuck E. Cheese for adults, and during the work day it can be a real boost to your mood, concentration, and productivity. Research shows that we’re designed to have a second short sleep during the second half of the day. To avoid sleep inertia (when you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over and don’t know who you are) don’t sleep for more than 20 minutes. One of the most pleasant people I ever worked with told me she took naps at lunch. I gave up loading my dishwasher and tidying my house on my lunch hour and took up the power nap and it was miraculous.
10. Lunch is a great time to get some “me” time. At work you’re with coworkers, clients or patrons, etc. all day. You go home in the evening to do the dishes and make dinner while everyone in your home talks about their day and your cat or kids are begging for attention. Use lunch to be you and have some alone time with yourself!
I worked in an office that very much frowned on lunches out unless they were for meetings or parties. When they were out it was typically a place that serves grease as a side dish, and I’m a picky eater to begin with. I survived over a year of “I never take lunches”, side glances, and even nasty comments (from mental health pros who should know better!) about my lunch habits.
Thing is, I don’t think I’d have made it in that environment for as long as I did if I hadn’t guarded my midday lunch time as both precious and MINE. Any day where I was working out of the office, I made sure to take at least a 20 minute break to run home, check my mail, walk around, or go power nap. It made all the difference!
Now you have a list of all the reasons that lunch breaks, at any time of day, are a good thing for you and the work your employer needs from you – and from a mental health pro to boot! Use them! Change your day and your work by taking lunch breaks daily for a week and monitoring the results!
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