Mindfully Managing Workplace Stress


November 14, 2017

Written by Andrea Lieberstein, MPH, RDN, RYT 

Bestselling author of ‘Well Nourished: Mindful Practices to Heal Your Relationship to Food, Feed Your Whole Self and End Overeating’

Mindfully Managing Workplace Stress

Do you find that your workday leaves you feeling depleted or anxious? Does stress from time pressures, office politics or feelings of being overwhelmed contribute to feeling tense or unsettled? Whether you commute to an office, work at home, are a stay at home mom or retired, stress can affect us all. Mindfulness practices can help.

Workplace stress is very real but what we don’t realize is that how we start and end our day can also impact our experience of workplace stress. The more resourced and resilient we are, the less it will impact us. We can use mindfulness to begin to get a handle on our work and daily stress and bounce back more quickly.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to our present moment experience with kindness and non-judgment. Bringing our attention into the present moment can help us not only appreciate the moment, but see more clearly when stress is on the rise and what is needed to make supportive choices.

Before Work

It all starts with awareness. Use your mindfulness to scrutinize your daily routine beginning with the morning. How do you start your day? Do you get up early enough to enjoy a nourishing breakfast and cup of tea or coffee, and for a brief mindfulness practice, exercise or other routines that set you up for success? Or are you rushing out the door exhausted, barely dressed and fed, and feeling frenzied as you try to pull yourself together for the day ahead? Awareness of how our morning routine influences the rest of our day allows us to make changes to more effectively manage the stresses that arise during the day.

If you’re longing to start your day with a little more calm and balance here are some tips to bring mindfulness, stress relief and nourishment to your work day.

  • Set your intention that your morning routine will nourish you rather than deplete you by increasing your mindful awareness. Begin to notice which experiences in your morning routine leave you feeling depleted versus nourished. It may be that snoozing a few times before you get out of bed feels like a luxury at first, but that has you rushing and stressed as you try to get to work on time. Or you may notice that the time you spend sitting at the breakfast table with your family brings you joy and connection, and starts your day in an uplifted way. Awareness is key to discovering what is working well, and what changes you may wish to make.
  • Start the day with a brief mindfulness practice.  By setting aside a few minutes to focus your mind on just one thing, like the breath, can help your mind to become focused, clear and at the same time relaxed. This sets you up to let go of negative thoughts, or distractions, that can start you off on the wrong foot, and instead connect to a state of mind that will be more positive and productive.
  • Bring mindfulness into your morning routine. Being more present throughout your morning routine will help you to receive the nourishment that is available in these activities. The moment that you wake up you might notice a moment of quiet but then your mind might go to stressful thoughts about your work day and a to do list. You might also find that everyday moments such as showering, eating, saying goodbye to family or pets can fill you with joy, connection, relaxation…just what you’re needing to get you going.
  • Make your commute to work less stressful. Put on relaxing or energizing music, whatever feels pleasant to you or just enjoy the silence. If you listen to news be mindful of how much and what sources you choose to listen to so you don’t end up feeling too agitated by the time you start work. Use your mindful awareness to take in whatever beauty or pleasant sights there are along the way while staying attentive.

woman working on a laptop

Mindful At Work  

Once at work, it is all too easy to put on our “human doing” hat, get in high gear and stay there all day without regard to our physical, emotional, psychological, and other needs. Deadlines and work loads can feel like alarm bells calling us to action that keep us going and on high alert. This is the fastest route to feeling burnt out and stressed. Any enjoyment from what we are actually doing passes right over us as we focus solely on completing tasks and getting things done.  Consider the following tips to set yourself up for a productive, meaningful and stress-resilient day.

  • Prioritize. Before jumping into work with reckless abandon, you can slow things down with the mindful intention to actually be more productive and feel better by being more present to the priorities for your workday. When you first get to work, pause and check in and ask yourself, ‘what are my priorities for today?’ By becoming clear on where it is most important to focus your attention, you’ll be better positioned to start your day with what truly needs attention. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose your most energized, focused and creative hours in the day in a sea of emails or on tasks that aren’t actually priorities.
  • Do one task at a time. Studies show that multitasking actually takes more energy and leaves you feeling more depleted. Being present for one task at a time leads to bringing more resourcefulness, creativity, focus, attention to detail and efficiency to what you’re doing. And guess what? You’ll likely feel less stressed and make less mistakes.
  • Pause and savor. What are the moments you enjoy at work? Is it the feeling of accomplishment when you wrap up a project? Or collaborating with others? Tackling a challenge that no-one has been able to solve? Or maybe it’s your lunch break. Make sure to take in and savor the parts of the tasks and moments in your workday that you enjoy and are pleasant. When we go too fast we usually don’t notice them. Our mind skips to the next task and the next. This is a form of resourcing yourself during the day.
  • Self-Compassion Moments. When the day isn’t going your way, you feel stressed, frustrated, or simply wish things were different than they are, this is a time for self-compassion.  Acknowledge that this moment feels challenging, know this is a universal human experience, you are not alone, and bring a sense of kindness to yourself. This simple practice can help you to de-stress and release difficult emotions, allowing you to re-engage in a resourceful and resilient way.
  • Ask for Help when you need it. Trying to do it all on your own may be creating unnecessary workplace stress. Sometimes we need to ask for help, mediate, or problem solve situations with others or someone higher up in the organization. And sometimes we may be able to get things done on our own, but we could be more effective, efficient and relaxed if we asked for help.

After Work

These same principles of awareness, intention and making nourishing mindful choices apply after work too.  When we mindfully check in, notice and nurture in ourselves and our lives what we really need, we can avoid the cycle of depletion that carries over to the next day.  We no longer need to turn to unhelpful strategies for managing work stress such as overeating, overworking, or hours of couch potato screen surfing after work.

  • Invest in your life outside of work.  Spending time developing hobbies, investing in relationships, and relaxing are important for increasing our sense of fulfillment in life, as well as keeping us resilient to the stress inherent in our work life. It’s important that these activities are truly nourishing you rather than just “doing”. Consider what will truly increase your fulfillment – Is it creative, intellectual, social, athletic, or spiritual practices or endeavors?
  • Mindful routines. Just as in the beginning of the day, we can end our day with mindful practices that help us unwind from a stressful day and nourish us at the same time. Try:
    • Mindful eating,
    • Being fully present with your family, friends or pets,
    • Spending a few minutes appreciating nature, …as well as mindfulness practices such as
    • Spend a few minutes reflecting on what you are grateful for
    • Take a few minutes of mindfulness practice as you turn out the lights and go to sleep.
  • Practice gratitude.  As you wrap up the day, spend a few moments reflecting on what you’re grateful for today. It may be a conversation during a meeting that generated a helpful solution for one of your projects, or moments of laughter with colleagues over lunch, or enjoying an after dinner walk with your dog. There can be endless experiences and aspects of life recall with gratitude. As you bring these to mind, notice how you feel as you end the day grateful.

man working on computer

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