By Emma Carbery, Managing Director, The Workplace Yogi www.theworkplaceyogi.com
Not so long ago I was listening to a radio talk show in Dubai about stress and the causes of stress. The theme of stress at work was a big one that kept on coming up time and time again. As I continued to listen, one particular caller said that they thought ‘high stress’ and ‘burn-out’ was a sign of weakness and that people who were always stressed were wimps! From my experience of working as an HR Director in large multinational companies, I can safely say that all of us experienced escalating levels of stress and from a company perspective it wasn’t something that was often thought of as a problem. In fact it was rarely discussed openly. It was also my experience that often the most talented, conscientious and high potential employees were the ones most likely to experience high levels of stress. Their desire to deliver continually high levels of service for their clients and colleagues exposed them to escalating expectations from the business and from themselves. They weren’t wimps, they were incredibly good at their jobs and cared deeply about the quality of their work. You may recognize yourself as this kind of person, or work with colleagues like this. Unfortunately, unless we can find ways to manage our stress it can have devastating effects on our brain and body, and affect our lives inside and outside of work. This short video explains what happens to our brain and body when exposed to chronic stress, and just to warn you, it isn’t pretty.
As the working world continues to grow more complex and challenging, it isn’t likely that the demands of work will decrease at any time soon. Bergquist suggests that the best way to reduce stress is to find a different way to respond to it, to find ways of shifting our perspective and relationships to stressful situations in order to build our ability to respond rather than react to the challenges that life sends our way. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be incredibly effective at reducing stress.
If you are struggling to fit in your formal mindful meditation practice during your day, try these 5 mindful techniques to take control of your work, your life and your stress now:
1. Stop the text neck now – the phone is the biggest distraction in the workplace. If you let it, your phone will continually steal your attention. In order to take control and ensure that your technology is serving you rather than making your life more stressful, you will need to set boundaries. Start small and set places where the phone is off limits such as: the car, the elevator, during meetings. Instead direct your attention to your breath, or to noticing sensations in your body. While in meetings, if you feel an urge to reach for your phone, double up your focus and attention towards the person that is speaking. Not only will this help you effectively contribute in the meeting, it will improve your relationships with colleagues as they will feel the connection from you as you listen fully and attentively.
2. Go for a walk – we have become such sedentary creatures, continually spending time in our minds and often forgetting altogether about our body. When we sit for long periods of time our metabolism slows down, our breath shortens, our muscles start sagging and our brains feel foggy. Get up and walk somewhere, increase your heart rate and notice how thankful your brain and body will be.
3. Relax your muscles – the great thing about many mindfulness techniques, is that no one need know you are doing them. Bring attention to your body through a short body scan exercise and just notice any sensations that you feel. Maybe you will notice tightness in your spine or shoulders, restlessness in your legs, feelings of heat or cold in your hands and feet. If you have noticed tightness in any part of the body, see if you can bring some relaxation to the muscles and lengthen your breath as you do this. Your colleagues won’t have a clue that you are practicing mindfulness right across the table from them but you will feel the difference as your shoulders move 2 inches further away from your ears.
4. Avoid multitasking where possible as it just doesn’t work – the science tell us multitasking doesn’t work and I think we all know intuitively that we aren’t operating at our best whilst trying to do 10 things at the same time, or in very quick succession. We end up in a state of continuous partial attention which means we are likely to make mistakes with tasks and miss out on important information our colleagues and customers are trying to communicate to us. Try focussing on one thing at a time. Your quality of work will improve and your brain will thank you for it.
5. Schedule in some play time – what does play time mean? It will mean different things to different people, generally speaking it means doing something just for the sake of doing it. Yes that’s right, you are allowed to do things just because you enjoy them! Walk, dance, play cricket, play with your kids, cats, dogs whoever or whatever. Do something that brings you joy just because you can.