Lunch hours appear to be going the way of the dinosaur. Right Management, a workplace consulting group, has found that only one in five workers takes a real break for lunch, meaning they actually leave their workspace.
Yet research shows that taking even a 15- to 20-minute break helps concentration and energy levels throughout the entire work day, promoting greater efficiency and creativity. A lunch break (or several smaller breaks throughout the day) helps the brain recuperate after performing a multitude of tasks like concentrating, decision-making, problem-solving, and communicating—all of which can cause mental fatigue.
According to Kimberly Elsbach, a management professor at the University of California at Davis, “Never taking a break from very careful thought work actually reduces your ability to be creative.” Studying the psychology of the workplace, Elsbach says forgoing a break “. . . sort of exhausts your cognitive capacity and you’re not able to make the creative connections you can if your brain is more rested. If you’re skipping lunch to push forward in a very intense cognitive capacity, then you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.”
And studies show what you do on your break matters in terms of creating wellness. Meditative forms of relaxation are very beneficial. One study assigned call-center workers 20-minute “progressive relaxation” breaks where they did meditation-like activities. These workers experienced less stress in the afternoons, compared to another group in the same study who casually talked with coworkers for the 20-minute period. Other side benefits of the relaxation-oriented breaks included reduced blood pressure and improved sleep quality.
Meditation has been widely studied in recent years. A comprehensive study at Harvard Medical School showed that long-term practitioners of meditation have far more “disease-fighting genes” active than those who do not practice any form of relaxation. According to Dr. Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and leader of the study, the research findings are a watershed because they show that an individual’s state of mind affects the body—on the physical and genetic levels. It’s well known that the “relaxation effect” has a strong positive impact on the level of the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue, as well as “feel-good” chemicals such as seratonin.
Other proven benefits of meditation include increased immunity, enhanced emotional balance and calmness, improved concentration, increased fertility, lowering of blood pressure, relief from digestive disturbances like irritable bowel syndrome, and an anti-inflammatory effect that helps conditions such as arthritis, asthma, heart disease, and skin problems like psoriasis. Benefits from a daily lunch meditation break accumulate over time to create an enhanced level of health.
Another type of break that’s highly effective is taking a nap. Just 20 minutes can help clear your mind and rejuvenate your body. TCM expert and author Nan Lu, OMD, says, “I tell my patients the best exercise is to relax; in fact, the very best exercise is to sleep! You never see a cat exercise, do you? They just lay there, rest and sleep; they walk around, stretch their tendons, then they rest some more. Yet, they have speed and agility. Nature is the best teacher and we can learn some great secrets by paying attention to its creatures and plants. The concept here is that when the body relaxes, the mind will relax. When the mind relaxes, Qi (internal energy) can flow. Even though you are doing what appears to be nothing at the physical level, you are doing a lot at deeper levels to help the body rebalance itself. Achieving balance and harmony is the path to total health.”
Unplugging from work by taking a daily break—in the form of a relaxation technique, meditation or a nap—clears the mind, calms the emotions and helps replenish your energy. It’s an effective stress buster. And lower levels of stress boost creativity and productivity—and set the stage for an all-around healthier lifestyle. So go ahead, give yourself a break!