5 Ways to Integrate Mindfulness Into the Workday

Infographic about today's workplace stress

Today’s workplace is more stressful than ever before. 94% of US workers report experiencing workplace stress, with heavy workloads, deadlines, demands from management, and the aftermath of the global pandemic being cited as the main causes. Work is ranked as one of the top three sources of stress among American adults, and over 25% of employees are at risk of burning out in the next 12 months (Stress.org, 2019).

Unfortunately, workplace stress doesn’t end at the office. With the ability to always be “connected,” the line between work and home life is becoming increasingly blurred--not to mention the new normal of remote work for many employees. 54% of workers report that work related stress impacts their home life, and 76% report that it affects their personal relationships. Moreover, 25% of US employees report that their mental health has declined in the last year, with the occurrence of diagnosable mental health conditions doubling due to the pandemic (Lyra State of Mental Health at WorkReport, 2021).

Stress at work impacts both individual employees and organizations as a whole. Stressed employees report significant losses in productivity, strained co-worker relations, and being mentally“checked out.” Work-related stress has been shown to cause serious mental health issues for employees, resulting in absenteeism and turnover. Clearly there is a need to address this pervasive issue, and the good news is thatMindfulness is proven to be effective at reducing stress, enhancing focus and productivity, increasing performance and job satisfaction, and improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills–all of which build the foundation for a healthy work environment.

Infographic about 5 ways to integrate mindfulness into the workday

If you are interested in practicing Mindfulness to manage workplace stress but don’t know where to begin, here are 5 practical, simple, and effective ways to start incorporatingMindfulness into the workday:

1.) Pause and Breathe. One of the most fundamental aspects of Mindfulness practice is bringing awareness to the breath. When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it is common for us to hold our breath, or hyperventilate, without even noticing it. This usually looks like shallow breathing through the mouth, and while we may not realize it, this actually further activates the body’s stress response and makes us feel even worse. One of the easiest and most effective self-care practices is to notice when you are stressed, pause, and breathe through your nose. Nasal breathing activates the restful, rejuvenating parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the body’s stress response. The best part is that this is a quick and seamless stress-reducer that you can employ anytime, anywhere--even while sitting at your desk or attending a meeting.

2.) Practice Patience & Curiosity. Another key concept in Mindfulness is the practice of “beginner’s mind,” which involves trying to view each person, situation, or place as if experiencing it for the first time. What would it be like to bring a sense of beginner’s mind and curiosity when interacting with your co-workers? Have you perhaps made certain judgments or labeled team members based on their past contributions or behaviors? Rather than assuming you already know what someone is going to say in a meeting or automatically dismissing their ideas because you have heard them before, take a breath and try to listen to their contribution as if they were speaking for the first time. How might you really listen to what they are saying? You may find that this improves your relationships with your team members, as you are giving them the opportunity to start fresh each day, rather than having preconceived expectations of how they may behave, perform, or contribute to conversations. This may allow you to find more meaning and connection in your relationships with your co-workers, and can help build a culture that fosters greater creativity and collaboration.

3.) Pay Attention to The Task at Hand. If you feel like you have done a particular task a thousand times (and maybe you have!), you may get into the habit of rushing through it or performing it on autopilot without really engaging with the work you are doing. While it’s normal to briefly “check-out” on occasion, or to mindlessly scroll through “less important” emails, consistently operating in this state is not ideal for several reasons. Cruising through tasks on autopilot means that you are not fully focused or paying attention, which can lead to careless mistakes. Rushing through an email or quickly doing something just to cross it off your list prevents you from fully absorbing all of the information and you will most likely need to go through it again. This ends up taking more time and effort than if you had been fully present the first go-round! And lastly, if you are tuned-out from, or speeding through, various moments of the workday, you are likely disengaged and disconnected from a sense of meaning and purpose in the work you do. This doesn’t have to be the case. Mindfulness practice offers the opportunity to tune-in and be fully present for each and every moment–not just the new and exciting ones, but the mundane, repetitive, or even frustrating ones too! You’re invited to try this perspective when doing your busywork or routine tasks. Pause and try to be fully present when reading emails or completing your weekly report, as if you are doing it for the first time. This will not only help you to make fewer mistakes and be more productive, but will also renew your enthusiasm and reconnect you with a sense of purpose in your work.

4.) Enjoy Your Lunch. This may seem like a fairly simple concept, but how many times have you scarfed down a sandwich while sending emails, only to forget that you had eaten at all? When there’s many things on your to-do list, eating seems like an easy multitasking activity, and sometimes there may be no other choice. However, this does not mean that it has to be common practice every single day. Carving out time in your day to pause and enjoy your meal--even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes--is more of a self-care practice than you may think. Eating mindfully at least once a week is important because it not only allows you to slow down and actually enjoy your food, but it also gets you in the habit of prioritizing making time for yourself regardless of other tasks vying for your attention. Make a quiet lunch date with yourself--this may even become the highlight of your workweek!

5.) Personalize Your Workspace. Decorating your desk with calming landscape pictures or inspirational quotes is a great way to reduce stress while also making your workspace look more inviting. Research has shown that just looking at images of nature can reduce stress levels by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (just like nasal breathing does!) (van den Berg et al., 2015). Specifically, viewing nature scenes can be effective at promoting relaxation and recovery following a stressful event. Keeping a live plant on your desk can also have a similar effect. If you are feeling generally overwhelmed or experience a stressful interaction with a supervisor or coworker, returning to your desk and viewing your pleasant pictures or decorations can be a great way to reset. It’s important to acknowledge that practicing Mindfulness does not just involve breathing or meditation--you can also practice Mindfulness by pausing to admire the photos or inspirational quotes in your workspace and cherishing them for a moment. This can help you to regroup, calm your mind, and connect with a moment of joy and gratitude throughout your day.

There are many ways you can introduce mindful moments into the workday. Practicing Mindfulness spans beyond formal meditation and does not even require quiet or solitude--you can find small opportunities to reset your mind and body right in the middle of the office. Over time, these “micro-moments” will go a long way in reducing your overall stress levels, increasing your job satisfaction, and improving your connection with your coworkers. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day--incorporating small mindful moments throughout the workday will help pave the way for a more meaningful, fulfilling, and sustainable career in the long run.

Contact us at info@mindfulawarenesspractices.com to bring a “5 Ways to Integrate Mindfulness Into the Workday” workshop to your organization, or to learn more about our other offerings.

References:

Berg, M. V., Maas, J., Muller, R., Braun, A., Kaandorp, W., Lien, R. V., . . . Berg, A. V. (2015). Autonomic Nervous System Responses to Viewing Green and Built Settings: Differentiating Between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Activity. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(12), 15860-15874. doi:10.3390/ijerph121215026

Lyra State of Mental Health at Work Report, 2021

Milenkovic, M. (2019, September 25). 42 worrying Workplace Stress Statistics. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/42-worrying-workplace-stress-statistics

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