Whether you work in an office, work from home, or even work in a yoga studio, it’s likely your job causes some stress and anxiety at times. As human beings, it’s basically impossible not to feel stressed at the office. To wit: The American Institute of Stress found that work is actually the greatest cause of stress in the U.S. What’s more, a survey by Attitudes in the American Workplace VII found 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress, and 42% say their coworkers need help, too.
The good news? A strong mindfulness practice can make a big difference when it comes to mitigating some of this stress. Mindfulness is all about experiencing the present moment. When you’re conscious of your thoughts, you can be more aware of your responses and actions— especially in a workplace, where tensions can run high.
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“Mindfulness helps us gain greater self-knowledge and awareness, allowing us to observe and perceive ourselves and the world in an intentional and non-judgmental way,” says Molly Porth Cabrera, a vinyasa and prenatal yoga teacher and birth doula in Mexico City.
This type of self-knowledge (and non-judgment) can be especially helpful in a work setting. Why? Mindfulness prevents us from jumping to emotional conclusions about things like an e-mail you might be annoyed by, someone’s less-than-friendly tone, or not having a file on time that you were supposed to have received. In fact, a recent study by University of British Columbia researchers found that conflict decreased when teams were more mindful at work; mindfulness helped decrease frustration and ensured team members were less harsh and quick to get angry with one another.
Ready to usher in more mindfulness at work with tactics that’ll actually stick? Here are 9 to try this week.
1. Act, don’t react.
Before you respond to a situation at work, breathe, says Lisa O’Rear, a yoga teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Take a moment during the day to observe your breath,” she says. “We often spend our day reacting instead of responding to our circumstances and surroundings. Practicing a deeper connection to your breath will help you stay calm, focus, and be more present.”
2. Set small, daily mindfulness goals at your job.
Try a goal of meditating for one minute each day in the middle of the workday. Even the smallest break can make a big difference when it comes to switching our mental gears and avoiding anxiety, says Chelsea Fleming, a yoga teacher in Brigantine, New Jersey. “Meditation does not need to be lengthy,” she says. “It can mean going for a walk without your phone, setting an alarm for five minutes and zoning out, or practicing breathwork in your parked car after a long day at work. Set a small, realistic goal and work your way up from there.”
3. Hide your phone.
Whether you’re attempting to write an e-mail or conduct a face-to-face meeting, simply having your phone in sight can be distracting. Make a new rule to not bring phones to meetings, or vow to put it in a drawer where it’s “hidden” during serious work time. “Carrying your cell phone around less will drastically change your behavior,” says Goldie Graham, a yoga teacher in La Jolla, California. “The energy of the phone in general is vibrationally yucky. If you try just one tip, make it this one.”
4. Eat mindfully throughout the day.
Mindful eating has been shown to be hugely helpful for health and wellbeing. Meg Townsend, a Philadelphia-based ayurvedic yoga specialist, reiki master teacher, and retreat curator for Real Living Yoga suggests taking a few moments before you begin to eat to connect the process of eating with each sense. “Look at your food and how it was prepared. Take in the enticing aroma of what you're about to eat. Then as you take a bite, chew slowly and notice how your mouth identifies flavors and texture, and listen to the sound of your chewing,” says Townsend. “When you give yourself this time to eat mindfully, you're more likely to feel satisfied with your meal and your body will digest and assimilate the food with more ease. This practice of being fully present and mindful of your meal can be a most powerful shift towards vibrant health.”
4. Take five minutes to check in at work.
Take a moment every morning—even if you’re busy—to turn your focus inward and check in with your mind and body. “My favorite way to tap in to my mind-body connection is through my breath,” says Fleming. Do a quick body scan and notice if there are any areas of stiffness or tension. Without judgement or labels of any pain or discomfort, start to deepen your breath.
5. Create little rituals.
Rituals are a great way to practice mindfulness before, after, and at work— whether it’s taking a mindful walk during your lunch hour or closing your eyes in a quiet conference room for 5 minutes. “Before my lengthy work day, I light a candle and bring it into the shower with me,” says Fleming. “Instead of rushing through my shower and worrying about the tasks at hand, I watch the flame of the candle dance and clear my head. The ritual of lighting a candle brings focus into the mundane, and an opportunity for worry transforms into an opportunity for peace.”
6. Use your five senses to become more aware.
Engaging with the five senses can be a powerful way to bring more mindfulness into your daily work life. “Your senses are how you interact with the world around you,” says Townsend. “As you connect with each sense, stay aware of your breath and anchor in the present moment: Pause and look around to notice certain things you might not normally notice, like the light dancing on the wall or a leaf shaking in the wind. Listen to the sounds you're perceiving close to you and also the ones at a distance. Notice the sensation of your clothing on your skin and the breath in your nostrils. If you're outside, you might tune into the heat of the sun on your skin or a refreshing cool breeze. As crazy as it might sound, simply smelling the coffee as it brews or feeling the softness of your computer keyboard keys can go a long way toward grounding you in the present moment—and helping you be more mindful all day.
7. Keep a gratitude journal next to your to-do list.
“Circling back to the things we have—however big or small—can create a strong sense of gratitude and mindfulness,” says Fleming. Want to mix things up a bit? Name at least one “silly” thing that brings you joy, like your garbage disposal or matching socks, she adds. “Keep a journal on your desk at work and jot down three things a day you’re grateful for, and make it a daily mindfulness ritual.”
8. Turn off e-mail notifications and delete time-zapping apps.
“So often we become immersed in the digital that we lose our true selves,” says Fleming. “Social media and work obligations play a huge role in this. When we have all of these open in the palm of our hands, they also take up space in the mind.” For Fleming, deleting the Facebook app on her phone has ushered in a lot more mindfulness. “Having to manually log in every time I wanted to scroll through my feed makes accessing the site harder, which means I’m more mindful of how much I actually use it.” Fleming also recommends turning off email notifications, so it’s easier to focus on one task at a time—and to avoid getting lured by the “ping” of e-mails and messages that threaten your new mindfulness practices.
About the Author
Gina Tomaine is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor. She is currently Deputy Lifestyle Editor of Philadelphia magazine, and previously served as Associate Deputy Editor of Rodale’s Organic Life. Her work can be seen in Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Prevention and elsewhere. Learn more at ginatomaine.com.