Let’s face it, there’s a clear emphasis on productivity over presence today in the workplace. With deadlines, long hours and numbers to hit, it’s not surprising that 83% of American workers say they feel stressed out about their jobs.
The do-more-with-less business culture leads to lower job satisfaction, productivity and morale. More hours plugging away at the office means less time for renewal and introspective activities (think sleep, nutrition, exercise and meditation) that help shift us back to our natural state of inner balance. Stress is the culprit of a whole host of health problems including depression, anxiety, hypertension and heart disease. Stress wreaks havoc on your body – triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response by pumping neurochemicals, cortisol and epinephrine, through the body at astonishing rates. The longer your body is exposed to these chemicals, the greater their toll.
What is Mindfulness? Mindfulness is upholding an intimate awareness of the present moment without the filter of judgment. It is harnessing the power of self-control in order to respond to the flow of life with adaptability. For example, cultivating mindfulness helps you become more aware of the negative thoughts you might be having about a co-worker you perceive as threatening while creating space to choose a mindful strategy. It is finding the sacred space between our thoughts – that pause – which births emotional freedom.
How? Here’s where the rubber meets the road. I’ve laid out 3 strategies to help you integrate mindfulness into your day so you can shed the stress and increase inner balance at work:
1. Tap-In While In Transit
This is a mindfulness strategy I utilize every morning to balance my mind and emotional body before a long day in the office. When you’re driving to work, turn off the tunes, finding silence and stillness. Notice the rhythm of the road, including both the pronounced and nuanced bumps beneath your tires. Hear the engine and breathe deeply, taking in the sensations of the drive. Immerse your attention into the sensory experience of driving – the sights, smells, sounds and rhythms. Make this exercise a part of your morning routine to foster clarity in the mind and groundedness in the body. Your senses are a powerful portal into mindfulness.
2. Stash Creature Comforts
Keep items like your favorite mints, tea and lotion in your desk (I always keep ginger mints and lavender lotion within an arm’s reach). When you sense a wave of irritability or any form of emotional reactivity emerge, take a few moments to savor a mint, focusing on your sense of taste and smell. Not only is this an enjoyable experience (an act of loving-kindness towards yourself), but it’s strengthening your self-control muscle. Focus on the way the mint feels in your mouth and the flavor as it hits various areas of your tongue. You can bring the same mindful awareness to sipping your favorite tea or gently rubbing lotion on your hands. The point is to shift your focus into the body using a sensory experience, as opposed to being controlled by our negative thought patterns and default ways of emotional reactivity. When we sense our stress response emerging, it’s skillful to mindfully use these comfort items.
3. Connect to Breath
When we’re overcome with stress and anxiety, we tend to hold our breath without even noticing it. Nourish your body by intentionally taking deep inhalations and slow exhalations, activating the parasympathic nervous system – our calming system. Find 3-5 seconds of stillness between each inhale and exhale, then between each exhale and inhale, promoting space and clarity in the mind. Repeat this for at least 8-10 full breath cycles. Notice how the air feels hitting your nostrils and inflating your lungs, taking note of each sensation of breath. Allow the breath to wash over you, riding the waves of breath home to who you are inside. In these moments, you are shifting focus away from destructive thoughts, accessing your calming system and connecting to your true nature.
Use your creativity to integrate mindfulness into the work day. There are many flavors of mindfulness so figure out which strategies resonate most with you. It’s no mistake that companies like Apple, Google and McKinsey & Company have implemented mindfulness programs for their employees. Mindfulness can help create happier, more productive workers.
Consider working with an experienced meditation instructor to begin cultivating a daily meditation practice. Explore various forms of meditation such as Compassion and Mantra and see what you’re most drawn to. Mindfulness and meditation will help you develop a non-reactive, more attuned way of being that is essential for coping with inevitable work stress.