Written by Sara Czubek
Work can be a source of significant stress. Period. Tight deadlines, tough conversations and long days. No matter what job, there are always anxiety provoking moments. Companies like Google, Fitbit and Microsoft have started investing in their employee health and wellbeing, using mindfulness training to increase happiness, productivity and efficiency.
A report commissioned by Medibank Health Solutions assessed the evolution of workplace wellness in Australia, stating that stressed workers are less engaged, less productive and have higher levels of absenteeism, and turnover. Stress reducing activities and wellness methods have an impact on stress immediately, while also maintaining effects long-term.
Whether or not your company or organisation adopts a mindful setting, there are simple ways to reduce the impact of workplace stress and risk of burnout.
What is mindfulness?
To start practicing mindfulness, it’s handy to understand the meaning.
Mindfulness is a simple practice of staying in the present moment and accepting what occurs in a non-judgmental way. Put more simply, mindfulness is a way to help settle the monkey mind. It is a tool to be less stressed, calmer and kinder to ourselves with the rapid pace, always on and connected environment of the 21st century. With the nature of workplaces today, meditation has become a necessity. Tasks compete for our attention and often bleed into break hours, with the mind wandering, thinking about the future, dwelling on the past, fretting and fantasizing. The goal of mindfulness isn’t to stop thinking or empty the mind. Pay close attention to your physical sensations, thoughts and emotions, letting them pass by without attachment or judgement.
Mindfulness training is a growing tool for corporate wellness
Stress at work in unavoidable due to growing demands of contemporary industry practice. Meditation helps bring us back to the present moment and helps to regulate our emotions, reversing the impacts of stress on the body and mind. Mindfulness exercises help shift our perspective training the brain to be more resilient to stress, along with improving happiness and wellbeing. “I think of mindfulness as the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions,” says Dan Harris, the author of 10 Percent Happier. “That can have a big impact on how you are in the workplace.”
Regular meditation has been proven to change brain psychology. The amygdala (AKA the fight or flight response centre) is the part of the brain where anxiety, fear and stress stems from. An 8 week mindfulness practice showed to shrink the amygdala and enlarge the prefrontal cortex (the region of concentration and decision making). The benefits of meditation are not just in our heads. With a continual practice the neural pathways in the brain can be retrained and restructured. Mindfulness meditation positively affects a range of stress biomarkers, reducing blood pressure and heart rate. It also helps balance the stress hormone, cortisol.
Stress and burnout are major issues seen in various workplaces, especially in the media and communications industry where there is continual pressure to perform, produce current and engaging content, achieve KPIs and keep to deadlines.
Participation in decision making processes and social support have important impacts on perceived workplace stress, burnout and job satisfaction. Burnout is a negative occupational outcome developed through prolonged stress, emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced professional efficacy. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) burnout has been classified as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ and is now included in the 11th revision of the international classification of diseases. Just to be clear, it’s not considered a medical condition.
It’s quite normal to feel stressed from time to time, though when this stress is extreme, workplace burnout is usually a result. It’s important to reflect on your working environment to ensure effective processes are in place to reduce the risk of burnout. Integrate methods, such as a Wellness Wednesday to strengthen social support amongst interdisciplinary teams and modify working structures to increase decision making. Though these are efforts to decrease stress, individual impacts of juggling work-life balance are still very prevalent, therefore, other areas of stress management, such as mindfulness techniques are necessary within the workplace. Dedicating short periods of time for a mindfulness practice, such as short breathing exercises will help reduce anxiety, pressure and stress, future burnout rates while increasing productivity and effective communication.
Here are 5 simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your work day.
Find the right practice to suit your work day.
1. Breathing exercises
Try focusing on your breath, inhaling for three counts and exhaling for three counts. Once you’ve got the hang of this, you can extend the breath to six counts. This technique will help calm the nervous system and focus the mind.
2. Desk stretches
Sounds simple right? It really is. Try making a habit of stretching the body every few hours. Twisting and turning can help reduce future aches and pains.
3. Attention training
Improve your focus
Flicking between tasks often impacts the quality. Coming back to the present moment, practicing mindfulness can help us retain focus. If your mind starts to wander, try focusing solely on the task at hand, or writing out a list so excess thoughts don’t consume the mind.
4. Go for a walk at lunch.
You may want to push through the work and not take any breaks, but get up and move. A quick walk around the block can put you in a totally different mindset. Fresh air and vitamin D do really help.
5. Pause to eat.
This might seem like an all too simple one, but stopping to eat without distraction can bring you back into the present moment. It gives the mind a break from work, while also focusing on the food you’re consuming, aiding in better digestion.
Want more? There are abundant apps and videos to help with mindfulness and meditation practices. Here are our favourite: