(CareerBuilder.com) -- What do you typically do during your lunch break?
"What's a lunch break?" asks Ericka Alston, the principal of Pyramid Public Relations in Baltimore, Maryland. "In this economy, there are no times for breaks. Any 'free' time is spent on business development and getting new clients."
Alston is not alone in this sentiment. A survey by Right Management and LinkedIn reveals that workers are less likely than ever to take lunch breaks. "Fewer than half of employees surveyed say they take a lunch break away from their desk on an average day. Twenty percent eat at their desks, and 13 percent 'seldom or never' take time for lunch at all."
But experts warn that this trend might be dangerous.
"From a productivity standpoint, there are diminishing marginal returns when you ask your brain to exert constant effort through an eight-hour day," says Dr. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, a workplace psychologist at VocationVillage.com. "When workers skip a lunch break on a regular basis, they often don't realize that fatigue and burnout are creeping up on them until they wake up one day and 'suddenly' feel less enthusiastic about their jobs or businesses."
Beverly Beuermann-King, a stress and wellness expert from Little Britain, Ontario, Canada, adds, "How we handle our breaks -- especially lunch -- has a huge impact on how we feel for the rest of the day. It is about using our energy wisely and replenishing that energy so that we have a rhythm to life. We know that our digestion needs time to do its thing properly. We know our bodies need down time in the middle of stressful situations to recoup energy and be able to refocus. We also know that many people fought for the right to be able to take these breaks that we sometimes give away without really thinking of the consequences."
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Real-life lunch breaks
For those who do take a lunch break, whether on a daily basis or at least sometimes, what are some good things to do? Beuermann-King recommends activities such as:
• Taking a walk
• Getting out into the daylight
• Talking to friends
• Taking a quick nap
• Eating a healthy lunch or snack
• Doing some stretching exercises
• Playing a quick, mentally-challenging game.
Others have their own ideas:
• Kristen Keener, director of media relations at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, spends her lunch hour taking an introductory Spanish class on campus. "Four days a week, I am a student again, and I love it."
• Steve Weinstein, a public relations director in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, puts his mountain bike in the back of his car and goes for a ride during the lunch hour. "It is great stress relief and a fabulous way to see the neighborhood in which I work."
• Rebecca Tompkins, a director of communications in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, visits her 6-month-old son at daycare. "Sure, it's a 20-minute drive there and a 20-minute drive back, but the 20 minutes I get to spend holding and rocking him is priceless."
• Betsy Aldredge and several other workers at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City play mah jongg. "It's a great, relaxing activity and a really nice chance to get to know co-workers."
• Clare Morgan, a vice president of marketing in Tampa, Florida, brings her lunch and heads to the conference room to watch "The Young and the Restless" with the receptionist. "This is an hour of 'bubble gum for the brain,' and it allows me to escape."
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Taking a break -- without guilt
But what if you work in an environment where skipping lunch is the norm?
"Identify some high influence co-workers and see if you can convince them to join you in something fun at midday," Civitelli suggests. "If key staff members start taking a lunch break, it can change workplace expectations. Even the most diehard workaholics will probably agree to a meeting where you problem-solve while walking, which would be better than working straight through at your desk."
And remember that a lunch break might be exactly what you need to be a better employee, despite what others think.
"I once worked for a firm where the CFO relished the opportunity to remind everyone in earshot that lunch was for losers, and I continue to pity him after all these years," says Sharon Van Buskirk, a marketing director in Dallas, Texas, who now makes a point of getting out of the office. "Often I find that even if I'm not actively thinking about work during lunch, I tend to come back afterwards with a fresh idea, approach or solution to a work-related issue. It's magic!"
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