It’s official. We’re more stressed in the workplace than we’ve ever been. The UK Office for National Statistics Labour Force study states that 488,000 employees in Britain reported feeling work-related stress at a level that was making them physically ill (HSE 2015/16). It’s not a surprising statistic considering crowded commutes before you reach the office, challenging colleagues, increasing workloads and poor leadership contributing to the phenomena. Mindfulness at work may present a solution.
What exactly is mindfulness?
So what is mindfulness and how can it help you to manage your stress levels? Mindfulness guru, Dr Jon Kabat Zinn describes the practice of mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”.
Mindfulness is awareness, put simply, knowing what you are doing whilst you are doing it. The opposite to mindlessness, those moments at work (and home) when we switch over onto autopilot.
Still not sure?
Do you find yourself;
- Missing what a colleague has just said to you(whilst still nodding your head)
- Drifting off in meetings
- Failing to recall the commute to or from work
- Getting caught up in negative cycles of thought or rumination about your workload, colleagues or current project
- Operating under the erroneous assumption that the more hours you work and fewer breaks you take will somehow make you more productive (we know from research that it won’t)
- Ignoring symptoms of stress such as tiredness, lack of focus and loss of enthusiasm, ploughing on regardless without examination.
Mindfulness is being aware of those moments. Noticing. Recognising what you are feeling as you’re feeling it.
Cultures of Attention Deficit
Alongside the rise in work related stress, research from the University of California found that, on average, we’re distracted every three minutes at work. The Wall Street Journal reports that we typically check our emails a whopping 74 times daily. The truth is we work in organisations designed for distraction, breeding cultures of attention deficit and ensuing mental fatigue. Constant information overload is exhausting. There’s no wonder we can feel stressed at work.
It’s easy to see why the corporate world is embracing mindfulness as a strategy to reduce stress. With Google leading the field, SAP, Aetna, Virgin, Transport for London, UK Parliament and US Congress are all incorporating mindfulness programmes into their business strategy. Mindfulness is rapidly becoming mainstream. Workplace mindfulness courses are being employed to enhance performance, increase wellbeing and focus, improve productivity and boost innovation. That’s a pretty impressive list of credentials. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis will provide a huge return on your time investment. But where to start?
6 Mindful Work Hacks
Incorporate these 6 simple mindfulness hacks into your daily routine and kick workplace stress to the kerb.
- Take a mindful breath. Just take one, deep, mindful breath. Noticing as you inhale deeply, feeling the air enter your nostrils and fill your lungs. Become aware of the pause between the in breath and out breath. Exhale slowly, again noticing the physical sensations within your body. Yes, even one breath will make a difference and start to train your attention and your brain.
- After you’ve cut your teeth on one deep breath you can work up to a whole minute of mindful breathing. This time, don’t change your breathing, just notice the breath as you inhale and exhale. Perhaps you’ll notice that the air is slightly cooler around the nostrils as you inhale, or slightly warmer on the exhalation. You might sense the stream of breath on your upper lip — just go with it and see what happens. If your mind wanders, recognize that you are distracted and gently bring your focus back to your breathing.
- The next time you’re in a meeting, practice mindful listening. As well as really listening to the content of what is being said watch the facial expressions, posture and gestures of colleagues. Notice how mindfully listening changes the quality of your interaction with those round you.
- Switching from ‘Doing to Being’. Take two minutes to sit and notice how you feel with no agenda, no objective or goal. With this exercise there is nowhere to go and nothing to do except experiencing ‘being’ in the moment.
- Mindful walking. An easy way to incorporate mindfulness into your working day is to practice mindful walking. Notice how your feet feel upon the ground as you walk, the balance shifting from one foot to the other. Feel the breeze on your face and the sun on your skin. As you walk along, look at the light on the trees and the different buildings around you. Observe the different styles of architecture. Notice the people walking by. This is a great way to build mindfulness into your daily routine to and from work or on your way to a meeting.
- Mindful Emailing. The next time you receive an email that makes you go “Meh” stop. Notice how you’re feeling right here, right now. Bring your awareness to the thoughts running through your mind. What’s here? How do you feel in your body? Is there a corresponding physical sensation accompanying your annoyance? A tightness in your stomach? An ache in your shoulders or neck? Are you clenching your fists or tensing part of your body? Without judgement, reflect upon what you’re feeling. And then breathe. Take three deep breaths, pausing between the inhalation and exhalation. Notice the difference. Now you’re mindfully working.
Originally published at positivechangeguru.com on May 5, 2015.