If you’re a working professional in the U.S., chances are you have experience dealing with stress. A 2015 survey from Staples Advantage and WorkPlaceTrends found more than half of American employees reported feeling burned out at their jobs. One small way to combat this troubling trend is by better utilizing the breaks we’re given. Lunch breaks are the perfect opportunity to refresh in the middle of a hectic day—here are eight ways to make the most of them.
1. LEAVE THE OFFICE.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but true lunch breaks are something of a rarity these days. According to a 2012 survey from Right Management, only 19 percent of workers take regular lunch breaks away from their desk while 28 percent reported "seldom" taking a lunch break. While some employees may work through lunch with the intention of being more productive, staying put can have the opposite effect. Psychology experts agree that a change in environment is beneficial to creative thinking. Leaving the office, even if just for five or ten minutes, is a simple way to refresh your brain.
2. READ A BOOK.
If you’re looking to give your brain a break from work, try getting lost in a good book. Allowing yourself to be consumed by something unrelated to your job is a great strategy for transitioning out of work-mode. You can turn to books as a form of escape, or find something educational to read and spend your free time learning something new.
To really improve your performance at work, find the time to meditate during your lunch break. A 2012 study [PDF] conducted by researchers at the University of Washington found that regular meditation boosts focus, memory, energy levels, and overall mood. If you have 10 to 20 minutes to devote to clearing your mind, you’ll be better prepared to tackle your work once it’s time to return to the office.
In today’s workplace, a large portion of our communication is done online. This can make completely unplugging from your job a challenge, even after you’ve left the office. Encourage yourself to take a reprieve from the digital world by setting aside your device at lunch. Tearing yourself away from all screens is an important step in breaking out of your work mentality.
Finding the time to exercise—whether it’s early in the morning or after work when you’re already exhausted—can be a pain. If you think you’re too busy for a workout, consider whether you have time for it during your lunch break. Exerting yourself in order to feel refreshed may sound counterintuitive, but exercise has been found to boost energy levels and brain function. Even if you don’t feel up for a run, a quick walk around the block is better than no activity at all.
6. TAKE A NAP.
Many of us stopped taking naps after kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean the practice is just for kids. Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were all known to indulge in nap time. Not only is it a perfect way to relax, but naps can also help you stay focused once you return to work. Research conducted by NASA found that pilots who took 25 minute naps were 35 percent more alert than and twice as focused as those who didn’t nap at all. So if you work from home, live close to your office, or own a car with a reclining seat, take advantage of the opportunity to catch some mid-day shut-eye.
7. CATCH UP WITH A LOVED ONE.
Calling your mom, grandpa, or some other family member or long-distance friend is something we all know we should do more often. But when the craziness of life gets the better of us, this is often one of the first items to go on the back burner. Instead of spending your lunch break in solitude, use it to catch up with a loved one. You’ll be surprised to see what a positive impact even just a 10 minute conversation can have on your mood.
8. SPEND TIME IN NATURE.
After spending all morning in a cramped, harshly-lit office, walking through nature can provide a much-needed change in perspective. One study published last year found that being in nature can decrease instances of negative thoughts. Even if you work in an urban area, a nearby park is the perfect place to spend your time away from the office.