Every Breath You Take: Mindfulness at Work

Every Breath You Take: Mindfulness At Work.
Business Essay
Published, March 2013. Frequency News.com

Before you read this, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and hold it for ten seconds. Let it out slowly. Repeat this once or twice more. How does this make you feel? Relaxed? Calmer? Maybe more focused?

This brief exercise is an example of mindfulness training. Mindfulness is about being actively aware of where you are in any given moment. In our technology-fueled lives, it has become increasingly difficult to stay focused on this moment. Our minds become overwhelmed by information; we lose our ability to concentrate. And this leads to stress, especially in the workplace.

In a recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 40% of Americans report their job was very or extremely stressful. 75% of the respondents believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago as a result of technology.

So, yes, we know our work can be stressful and that technology can often exacerbate this stress. But with mindfulness practice, we can combat stress and enjoy more focused, productive work lives. Developing mindfulness habits during the workday can yield tremendous mental health benefits:

A 2008 study linked mindfulness practices to reductions in rumination (over-thinking) and related decreases in depressive symptoms.
A 2010 study linked mindfulness practices to significant increases in working memory.
A 2009 study revealed that mindfulness practices helped suppress distracting information, improving focus and attention.

It takes minimal effort to introduce mindfulness practices into your workday. Here are five that I use regularly and find extremely effective:

Write the word “breathe” on a Post-It note and pace is somewhere near your desk. Simply seeing the note will make you conscious of your breath and immediately reduce stressful feelings.
When driving to work, turn off the radio for five minutes and place both hands on the steering wheel. Focusing on your hands gripping the steering wheel will bring you into the moment and reduce stress… especially if you are stuck in traffic.
Turn off your email three times per day for 15-20 minutes. Nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait a few minutes. Use the time to write or think about a challenge you are facing at work. Taking your mind off the constant stream of email messages will have an immediate impact on your creative energy.
Take a short walk outside at least once a day. Research indicates that a 15- minute walk in nature can improve focus and creativity.
Commit to eating at least one meal per day mindfully. Meaning, eat without distractions such as the TV and be extremely deliberate in chewing and swallowing your food.

We will always have some degree of stress in our lives. It is unavoidable. By integrating mindfulness practices such as these into your work life, you can dramatically reduce the impact of stress and enjoy greater energy and creativity. It really is simple: just stop and breathe.

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