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Do Lunch Breaks Stress You Out?

We've all read the studies that say taking a lunch break is the best thing you can do for your productivity, health, and sanity. Now, a new study shows how lunch breaks could actually increase your stress levels.

lunch break 

(Photo Credit: huffstutterrobertl)

The key to the truly restorative lunch break is choice, say researchers at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"We found that a critical element was having the freedom to choose whether to do it or not," says study co-author John Trugakos. "The autonomy aspect helps to offset what we had traditionally thought was not a good way to spend break time."

In other words, if you get to decide whether or not to take lunch -- and pick your companions -- you're more likely to find the experience a restful break. If you're forced to do a team lunch -- or worse yet, a "working lunch" -- you're more likely to perceive it as an extension of your work day.

"The findings were especially staggering among more introverted subjects, as the pressure to socialize felt, well, like more work, thus defeating the entire purpose of taking a lunch break in the first place," writes Jessica Sager at The Grindstone. "If employees worked or socialized during lunch, it was only relaxing if it was a choice they actively made. If you were forced to work or to chat up that creep from sales, then chances are you'd be less than revved to go when you were done chowing down."

So, in short: lunch breaks, still good -- as long as we get to pick who we spend them with.

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