Learn how to practice being mindful, even at work.
We hear from our friends and clients that they want to be more mindful, but what does this actually mean? And how can that practice translate to mindfulness in the workplace?
First, let’s define our environment. We don’t need to look far to see the stressors of modern life. It comes in many forms, whether in feeling tethered to our smartphones, pressured to succeed, social comparison, or the struggles of balancing personal life and career. The mindfulness revolution in healthcare and our culture at large helps to provide some time-tested skills to assuage modern maladies. A growing body of research supports the idea that implementing mindfulness techniques throughout our day can improve our ability to manage stressors and resulting anxiety and depression (Hoffman et al., 2010). In fact, studies tell us that practicing mindfulness techniques can help boost relationships and enhance focus, attention, and mental flexibility (Barnes et al., 2007; Moore and Malinowski, 2009). Who wouldn’t want all that? By instituting mindfulness in the workplace, we can better manage stressors and thrive in the work environment.
As behavioral health practitioners, we view mindfulness as both a philosophy and a set of tools to help regulate our nervous system. The philosophy of mindfulness reminds us that we can only manage the present moment and that we function and learn best when we focus on one thing at a time. It also reminds us of the importance of cultivating love and respect for ourselves and others. By learning how to use the mindfulness toolkit to regulate our nervous systems, we can reduce physical and emotional discomfort so we can intentionally focus on our goals and values. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the most influential mindfulness ambassadors, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally…it’s about knowing what is on your mind.” (Mindful, 2017)
We find that many barriers to practicing mindfulness in general, and especially in the workplace, include people’s expectations and lack of exposure. Let’s begin with what mindfulness isn’t. It isn’t a cure-all for maladies, it doesn’t brainwash us into ignoring our problems with false positive thinking, and it doesn’t take time away from our work day. In fact, giving ourselves time to slow down and use mindfulness skills can improve our efficiency by calming the nervous system and improving task prioritization.
There are many ways you can implement mindfulness in the workplace – even while you’re sitting at your desk, in a meeting, or giving a presentation. However, an easy way to get started is by implementing these skills at transition times throughout your day (e.g. before work, at breaks, after lunch, before going home, and before going to bed). Below is a selection of our favorite mindfulness tools to help you practice mindfulness in the workplace.
Grounding: This technique requires you to pay attention to your body in the space around you. Try it now while sitting. Make sure both feet are planted on the ground. Start to notice your feet on the floor and your body in the chair. Observe what it feels like to have the ground and chair holding the weight of your body.
5-4-3-2-1: Observe your current distress level on a scale from 1-5 (5 being high). Notice 5 things you can see… 4 things you can hear… 3 things you can feel… 2 things you can smell… 1 thing you can taste. Now check in with yourself again by observing your level of distress. Has it changed? What do you notice? (TIP: you can remember this order by tracing a question mark on your face from your eye to your ear, cheek, nose, and mouth.)
Observing your Breath: One way to calm your nervous system is to engage in diaphragmatic breathing. Try this: In a seated position, plant both feet on the ground and make sure your back is supported in your chair. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Your top hand (and shoulders) should remain fairly still. Imagine your belly is like a balloon. As you inhale, the balloon inflates…as you exhale, the balloon deflates. You should also feel your breath expanding your ribs and low back. Inhale whatever amount of air feels natural.
Paying Attention: While someone is speaking to you, listen to their words and focus on what they are communicating to you without judgment or criticism. Wait until they are done before developing your response.
Meditating: This one requires you to find a private room or space outside. There are many kinds of meditation, but the two below incorporate mindfulness practice. Know that your mind will wander, but every time you notice and return to the present, you’ve practiced mindfulness. The success is in sitting down to do it.
- Relaxation response (http://relaxationresponse.org/steps/)
- Headspace (https://www.headspace.com/) – this one is an app that guides you
The tools and philosophical traditions of mindfulness are time-tested and evidence-based interventions for helping cope with modern stressors. We believe that by applying these skills and strategies to your daily routine you can improve your overall wellness. We recommend trying out different mindfulness tools (such as the exercises above) to determine which ones best suit you. Then, when you find the tools you feel are most effective and practice them regularly, you can make mindfulness work for you anytime, anywhere. This includes practicing mindfulness in the workplace and at home.
The purpose of this blog is to educate the reader on health topics and mindfulness in the workplace and is not intended as medical advice or treatment. If you are struggling with anxiety, stress, depression or any mental health issues, please consult with a Behavioral Health Specialist. Crossover Health members can conveniently schedule behavioral health appointments as part of their employee health care benefit.