How to be Mindful at Work
Working in a fast-paced and competitive environment can be stressful at times. It can be difficult to keep up with the demands of staying focused, being productive, and getting along with colleagues, management, and clients. The COVID-19 pandemic only added another layer of stress, both personally and professionally in many cases. To help manage workplace stress, learn how to be mindful at work.
What is a stress response?
Stress is a normal biological response to a potential threat. When your brain perceives there is a threat present, it goes into a “fight-flight-freeze” mode. This is a natural reaction to prepare you to face danger and increase your chances of survival. Your heart rate increases, your adrenal gland releases cortisol, and you receive a boost of adrenaline to give you energy.
Once the threat passes, your body begins to recover and return to its pre-stress state. Sometimes, stressful situations may go on for a long time and stress may not be resolved. In this case, the body adapts to being on high alert.
What are the effects of stress?
Anxiety Sadness or depression Lack of motivation Difficulty concentrating Irritability or anger Restlessness Difficulty making decisions
Fatigue Sleep issues Headaches Upset stomach Chest pain Muscle tightness
Appetite changes Social withdrawal Increased drug/alcohol use Tobacco use Exercising less often Changes in sex drive
What is mindfulness?
Let’s talk about mindfulness. You might have an image of mindfulness as sitting still for 20 minutes with no thoughts in your mind. Although this is an example of mindfulness meditation, being mindful is much more that that. It means intentionally bringing attention to the present moment the way it is. It’s simply taking a moment to acknowledge your feelings, thoughts, sensations, and surrounding environment as they are. It’s about making space for your emotional experience without judgment and with acceptance.
This can help us “increase our ability to regulate emotions, [and] decrease stress, anxiety, and depression” (Center for Change, 2022). Although this sounds simple, it takes consistent practice. With time, mindfulness can become a lifestyle that brings a sense of inner peace.
Helpful tips to include mindfulness at work
1. Set a clear intention
Take a few moments at the start of your day to make the decision to be present at work, to the best of your ability.
2. Focus on your breath
Breathing from the diaphragm increases blood flow and lowers your heart rate. It’s also a subtle way to practice mindfulness and helps give you clarity to make reasonable decisions. Try the STOP exercise below:
S - Slow down
T - Take 3-5 deep breaths
O - Observe what you’re thinking & feeling
P - Proceed with what you’re doing
3. Take breaks throughout the day
It may be hard when work is busy, but regular breaks can increase your productivity. Ex. work for 50 minutes, then pause for a minute to stretch / breathe or go for a walk if time allows.
4. Acknowledge emotions
If an overwhelming, strong emotion comes up notice and name it. “What am I feeling or thinking right now? Am I frustrated, anxious, sad, angry?” Focus on relaxing with deep breaths and let your body release the emotion.
5. Practice gratitude
The reality is that bad days at work can’t be avoided. And our brains are programmed to dwell on things that go wrong instead of what went well. Research shows that practicing gratitude – such as writing down 1-2 things you enjoy about your job – improves wellbeing. Gratitude can give you perspective and help enhance positive thinking.
6. Accept what you can’t change
If something goes wrong at work, accepting it’s happened helps you to move forward and find solutions. Be kind to yourself and gain clarity on what you can or cannot control.