We all know the many benefits of mindfulness – from greater focus to increased relaxation to a happier, more present way of being. But practicing mindfulness in the office is something that is becoming increasingly important as employees often report feeling overwhelmed and frazzled and stories of burnout are not uncommon. Blog post written by Cynthia Conigliaro (certified personal trainer, and independent health and wellness coach).
As people become more aware of the benefits of mindfulness, organizations are focusing more and more on mindfulness and mindful leadership. In this fast-paced world of around-the-clock interruptions in the forms of emails, texts and phone calls, it can often be difficult for employees to focus. In addition, our brains become used to being on autopilot and that often leads to disconnection and stress.
No, you don't have to sit barefoot on a conference room table to practice mindfulness. But couldn't hurt to try.
Mindfulness physically changing your brain & improving your work relationships
Quite a few research studies have looked at the impact of mindfulness on brain studies and have found that both mindfulness and meditation actually alter the brain in a positive way by increasing the density of our brain's grey matter. Such practices can bring amazing physical changes to the brain by improved functioning of the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This physical change in our brain is correlated with an increase in self-regulation and emotion control, heightened learning from past experiences, more complex thinking, better body awareness, greater perception and improved decision making – all important skills to have in the workplace. In addition studies have found that being present and mindful also means increasing productivity – mindfulness improves our focus and as a result, we accomplish more in less time. Still further reasons for practicing mindfulness is that studies have shown that mindfulness causes us to have a more positive attitude as negative thinking gets replaced by a more optimistic stance to problem solving.
Incorporate mindfulness habits into a busy workday
Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness in the office:
- Take a break – Getting up from your desk and moving a bit or changing your environment forces the mind to get back to the present. Grabbing a piece of fruit from the break room is the simple change environment that may help your mind get back to the present. A quick walk will make for a more refreshed body, will generate new ideas and increase motivation to tackle those tough or less interesting projects that you have been putting off.
- Breathe – Simply observing your breathing and trying to take some slow deep breaths sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. In addition to calming your nerves, deep breathing increases your energy level and improves blood flow.
- Just notice – Try to spend a few minutes a day just observing. Our lives are so hectic that we often miss noticing the little things. Notice the way your back feels against your chair, or the way your feet feel against the floor as you sit. Being more aware of your five senses will help you to be more mindful in every area of life.
- Slow down a bit! Taking a quick 5 minutes to regroup after fighting the traffic into work can help you from feeling frazzled the rest of the day. That short break to change your mind set will decrease stress and increase focus and productivity.
- Meditate – In addition to a whole host of other benefits such as lengthening your attention span and controlling anxiety, you’ll find that even just five minutes of meditation will make you more self-aware and as a result, more mindful. Meditation can be done at any time but try to set a meditation time during the day to make it a habit that sticks.
- Mindfulness apps are becoming increasingly popular. Apps such as Calm and Headspace can be done at work with a pair of headphones for just a few minutes. Headspace uses cartoons to guide you through the meditation and has sessions specifically for work productivity.
- Remembering to be mindful can be a challenge and to be truly mindful takes effort. Some people will set alarms on their phones to remind them to practice mindfulness or will associate a particular image or sound as a reminder to be mindful. One woman remembers to be mindful every time she hits the elevator button in her office. Anything you can do to remind yourself to be mindful is helpful when this isn’t our automatic reaction in the workplace.
- Cut down on multi-tasking - We’re all guilty of multi-tasking but studies show that repeatedly switching gears from one task to another confuses the brain and doesn’t allow us to focus on any one task. In contrast, focusing on one task at a time improves productivity and accuracy. The end result is it allows you to be mindful by focusing your attention in the present moment and allows you to be fully aware.
- Make a conscious choice at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your workday to get this intention set in your mind. You can set reminders in the office such as something as simple as a sticky note or mindful quotes like one by Jack Kornfield “When we get too caught up in the business of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.”
- Mindful exercises, even as short as just one minute, train your brain to be more mindful and balance your nervous system. The result is decisions are made in a more rational, thought out manner rather than a more immediate and automatic response to a situation.
- Check in with yourself throughout the day. You may not realize just how much tension you are holding in your neck and shoulders, later to find out that your back pain may be on account of this long-held tension. Do some scans of your body throughout the day and practice gradually relaxing your muscles.
- Take a deep slow breath and focus on some affirmative thoughts. Really notice the positives in your life so you can be more mindful of these things and ultimately, feel more calm in the work place and in life in general.
How do you practice mindfulness and meditation during your work day? Share your tips with the Boston Organics community in the comments below!