It’s no secret that our jobs and our lives are stressful. Nearly 8 out of 10 employees in America regularly experience physical symptoms of stress at work which can have negative effects on our health including high blood pressure and depression.
One way to mitigate stress and enhance physical and mental health is through mindfulness: the secular, science-based practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Recent studies tout the benefits of mindfulness for reducing stress and anxiety levels, encouraging positive emotions, and bolstering social connections and emotional intelligence – all things we need when trying to conquer the work week.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed at work, there are simple ways you can use mindfulness to pause and reset. Here are a few ideas to incorporate mindfulness into your workday for reduced stress and enhanced productivity.
Breathe. We may not have time to sit for a 10-minute mindfulness meditation, but we always have time to take a deep breath (or three!). When we are stressed or distracted, we tend to take shallow, hurried breaths. The next time you notice yourself getting frazzled in the workplace, breathe deeply into and out of the lower abdomen. Breathing in this way massages your vagus nerve, which calms your central nervous system and takes you out of “fight or flight” mode.
Move. Sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day can make it easy to forget that the mind and body are connected. Stay aware of your body by moving once per hour. Get up and stretch at your desk or add a few extra steps to your walk to the restroom. Perhaps your coworker is even open to having a walking meeting!
Practice single-tasking. While far from commonplace in the digital age, dedicating all your focus to one task at a time is actually the most efficient mode for your brain. Even if you can only prioritize single-tasking for 30 to 60 minutes, you can use that time to focus all your brainpower on your top priority task. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!
Listen. When we are stressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to forget that our lives are made up of moments. Similarly, connections with those around us are what make these moments memorable. Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware recorded two of the top regrets of the dying as wishing they hadn’t worked so hard and wishing they had connected more with their friends. In this vein, you can always take a moment to ask your coworker how they are doing and listen wholeheartedly to their response. Mindful listening can transform relationships and bring more meaning to life.
Practice gratitude. Our brains have evolved to protect us with a negativity bias, meaning our brains are wired to cling to bad memories and discount good ones. Practice being extra aware of the good things by pausing to be grateful during your day, even if it’s something as small as a coworker who made you laugh or a nice cup of coffee or tea. A positive attitude at work will enhance your productivity and help you keep your stress levels down.
Bringing mindfulness to your life and your work is a lifelong practice. Remember that as soon as you notice yourself stressed or frantic, that is a moment of mindfulness. In addition to the practices above, you can always S.T.O.P.: Stop what you’re doing, Take a few deep breaths, Observe your experience (thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations), and Proceed with something that will support you in this moment.
Dorsey Standish is a Mindfulness Instructor and Chief Operations Officer at Mastermind Meditation in Dallas. Her mindfulness practice has helped her succeed at a Fortune 500 tech company, overcome mental illness, and ultimately connect more deeply with those around her. Her mission is to share her passions for science-based yoga and mindfulness with a broader audience.