September 6, 2022

How to Manage Workplace Stress with Mindfulness

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 or work at home, 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 mindfulness to scrutinize your daily routine, beginning in 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, or 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 stressors that inevitably arise.

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 an intention that your morning routine will nourish you rather than deplete you. Begin to notice which experiences in your morning routine leave you feeling depleted versus nourished. It may be that snoozing your alarm 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. Being intentional with your morning routine and tapping into 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. Setting aside a few minutes to focus your mind on just one thing, like your breathing, can help your mind to become focused, clear, and relaxed at the same time. 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. Try eM Life’s Ten Short Everyday Mindfulness practices on-demand.
  • Bring mindfulness into your morning routine. Being more present throughout your morning routine will help you receive the nourishment that is available in these activities. You might notice a moment of quiet when you wake up, but then your mind might wander to stressful thoughts about your work day and a to-do list. You might also find that everyday moments such as showering, eating, or saying goodbye to family or pets can fill you with joy, connection, relaxation – just what you need 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. If you’re working from home, avoid going online first thing and carve out some time for yourself before you jump into the workday. 

Mindful At Work  

Once at work, it’s 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 workloads can feel like alarm bells calling us to action that keep us going and on high alert. This is the fastest route to feeling stressed and experiencing burnout. 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 clarifying where it’s 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. 
  • Take 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 offer kindness to yourself. This simple practice can help you 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 ourselves and our lives with 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 screen-surfing after work.

  • Invest in your life outside of work. Spending time developing hobbies, investing in relationships, and relaxing is 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. You can try:
    • Mindful eating
    • Being fully present with your family, friends or pets
    • Spending a few minutes appreciating nature
    • Reflecting on what you are grateful for
    • Mindfulness meditation 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 to recall with gratitude. As you bring these to mind, notice how you feel as you end the day grateful.

Check out eM Life’s 7 Days of Happiness in the Workplace on-demand program to learn mindfulness skills that help you feel refreshed, energized and connected at work. 

Written by Andrea Lieberstein, eM Life Teacher