I spent a decade after college working in high-pressure roles for fast growing startups and tech companies. I can recall days where I cried on my lunch break from the pressure. The workplace stress felt debilitating at times. If this sounds familiar, then you’re not alone.
According to a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health and NPR Radio, 43 percent of Americans say their job causes them stress, and 27 percent say this workplace stress affects their sleep. In Australia, 35 percent report having significant levels of stress in their lives, according to the Australian Psychological Society (1),(2).
Research shows that the main causes of workplace stress are (3):
- Work overload and long hours
- Concerns about losing one’s job
- Difficulty in work relationships
- Lack of control and resources
If this resonates, I have good news for you! With a few minutes of mindfulness practice each day, you can be whistling while you work in no time.
I like to say that it’s a practice that allows you to observe everything happening within you and around you without judgement. It helps you understand how everything affects you and how you affect the world around you.
There’s a reason why Google, Oprah and countless new businesses are using mindfulness. It’s absolutely vital to living with more ease and happiness! I’m walking proof. Once I began practicing mindfulness regularly, my anxiety attacks stopped and my workplace stress lowered. I felt immediate improvements in my health and work became much more enjoyable.
Here are some simple ways you can use mindfulness to make all the difference in your week:
The 90/20 Rule
This sounds like a no-brainer, but many of us work more than 8-hour days and never take a break beyond lunch. This is the equivalent of driving your vehicle on low oil. It may get you to from point A to B, but you’ll eventually break down at some point.
Nathaniel Kleitman, a physiologist and sleep researcher, found that many people work best having 90 minutes of concentration followed by a 20-minute break (4). The easiest way to do this is to set an alarm or a calendar reminder. Find a way to prompt yourself to stop what you’re doing, get up and move around every so often.
While taking breaks, try to limit your online and social media usage. Aim for natural experiences that will stimulate your brain, like face-to-face conversations, walking in nature or doing some light exercise. This will clear your mind and give you some fresh air to relax. It’s like giving a gift to yourself – sometimes a short little break is all the support your mind-body system needs to get the job done.
The 5-Minute Workplace Stress Buster
This is a simple practice I call “Soothing Breath.” Whenever you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed or nervous, take five minutes to try this. That’s all it takes to feel your nervous system return back to balance.
With your eyes open or closed, inhale for five full seconds and exhale for five seconds. Repeat this rhythm for five minutes. You can breathe through the nose or mouth. Experiment with what feels more relaxing.
Once your body’s natural relaxation response kicks in, you’ll feel more at ease, clear-headed and able to focus on the task at hand. As a testament to the legitimacy of this exercise, I tried it once after I was in a car accident and my body was shaking. Within five minutes of this breathing, I calmed down enough to stop shaking. Now that’s powerful!
Mindfulness teaches us to observe the circumstances in our world non-judgmentally. Instead of focusing on what is “right” or “wrong” about your work situation, start to ask yourself these questions: “What can I learn from this?”, “What is this (person/situation) teaching me?” and “How can I grow from this experience?”
As Shakespeare said: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Most everything in life can be considered neutral until we give it a label of “right” or “wrong.”
As we shift perspective and begin to look at the world through a lens of inquiry, we uncover hidden opportunities to grow – in ways that would have been impossible if we’d stayed flourishing in our pessimism.
Write Down 5 Things You’re Grateful For
Wouldn’t we all like to have our glass half full? Chances are, your glass is fuller than you realize! Because it’s so easy to fixate on what’s not going right, we often forget to recognize the positive aspects of our lives.
It’s human nature to be aware of obstacles, but when we overemphasize our attention on the problems, it’s like looking through a microscope. When our eyes are preoccupied with the issue in front of us, we miss the positive things all around us, and life starts to feel quite grim.
To remedy this, list out what you’re grateful for every morning in a notebook. Just five things a day. This practice will very quickly shift you into a positive mentality, where you’ll begin to consistently see the good things around you.
This alone will change your life.
An attitude of gratitude has a ripple effect. As you reprogram yourself to appreciate the small things, very quickly you’ll start feeling happier, and this happy state becomes a magnet for more wonderful events, people and circumstances to find you.
We’ve all been there before. You get an email that leaves a sour look on your face and tension in your chest, only to find out later – you completely misinterpreted their tone.
As humans, we’ve spent the last 200,000 years communicating largely in person. Much of our communication as a species relies on body language and tone of voice. Both are entirely lost in email communications, which makes it a tricky art to communicate indeed.
When we’re feeling the workplace stress, we transmit it within our email language without realizing it. The remedy? If you’re writing a difficult email or feeling stressed, don’t push the send button until you’ve walked away from your desk for two to five minutes and practiced the Soothing Breath technique (above). When you return to your computer, re-read the email as if you were the recipient reading it for the first time. Does any of the language need revision? Can any of it be misinterpreted?
Ask yourself this question: “What needs to be said for the highest good of completing this task AND creating a positive relationship here?”
Instead of Multitasking, Try Prioritizing
We tend to think doing multiple things at the same time is the key to getting things done, but there’s a new research that reveals multitasking is actually making our jobs harder! Uh-oh!
In an interview with NPR, Clifford Nass, a Psychology Professor at Stanford University, says: “Today’s non-stop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves. There’s evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too.” (5) He shares: “The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”
So how do we fix this? Start by doing one thing at a time. Benjamin Franklin was a master at prioritizing tasks on a to-do list. Considering how much he accomplished in his lifetime, I think it’s a safe bet to take this route. An easy method is to write out an exhaustive list of all the things you need to accomplish. Next, prioritize each task with an A, B or C in front of it. Put an A next to things that are super urgent and need to be done today, B next to slightly less urgent tasks and C next to tasks even less urgent. Try and aim for under ten As, if possible. Next, number all your As in order of importance or urgency: A1, A2, A3 and so on. Now do the same with the Bs (B1, B2, B3) and Cs.
Once you have your priorities straight, set a timer for how long you’d like to spend on the first task, A1. Put all other media aside. Do your best to stay focused on the task at hand and take breaks. Then marvel when you find this improves your workplace stress levels and productivity!
Anyone can meditate, regardless of age, history or beliefs. There are thousands of studies proving meditation is helpful for increasing our concentration and mental clarity, improving our mood, health, stress and overall well-being (6),(7). From personal experience, meditating changed my life and my students’ lives in powerful ways.
A simple way to get started is to sit upright in a back-supported chair. Plant your feet on the ground and rest your palms on your lap. Your eyes can be closed or open with a low gaze. Allow your attention to rest on your breathing.
Now let your muscles relax and invite your breath to restore a sense of calm in your mind and body. Without judging them, just notice the sounds, thoughts and emotions that are present. Become a curious witness to everything while keeping a gentle awareness on your breath.
Practice this for five minutes at first. Eventually over a few weeks, work your way to ten minutes, then 15 and 20. Many long-time practitioners meditate for 20 minutes twice a day – once in the early morning and once in the early evening before dinner.
The Bottom Line
With mindfulness, we learn to accept what we can and cannot control. We discover that we can’t always control what life throws at us, but we can control ourselves, how we respond to our circumstances, and how we choose to show up in the world.
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