Starting my first big corporate job, straight out of university was on the outside a massive societal achievement – ‘Yes’ I thought, my hard work is being rewarded with a 9-5 in the big smoke. What could be better?! Friends and family applauded my win and I finally thought I was going to feel ‘legitimate’ now that I was officially recognised as an adult, worthy of being paid to do a job!
In reality, the new responsibility had the opposite affect. This new challenge, while a huge opportunity, also brought with it a range of anxiety issues such as constant worry, good old imposter syndrome and fear of failure – I’d lie awake at night dissecting every conversation I’d had during that day and wake every morning with a pounding heart wondering if today would be the day I’d really fuck up and be fired. Hey I was a tad dramatic in those days! Cigarettes and cider provided a temporary numbing agent but the feelings would always re-emerge, never far from the surface.
My manager at the time recommended that I try the meditation app headspace to cope with feelings of overwhelm and rumination and it started me on a path that I’ve continued with over many years. Mindfulness has been especially useful (although much harder to apply) in high stress situations – and not just when on holiday, or relaxing or when you’re supposed to be truly present, like on special occasions. When shit feels like it’s really hitting the fan, and stirring up all of your insecurities, it is these moments where mindfulness can offer a helping hand.
For example, your boss wants to see you and you’re sure its because you’ve done something wrong, that common feeling just before a presentation when you genuinely think your legs are going to give way and your mouth is filled with cotton wool or that general uneasiness when we’re staring at our screen wondering if this is all there is to life, anaesthetised from the boredom of responding to yet another email.
This post is not all doom and gloom, I promise. From a place of struggle, I’ve emerged happier and healthier at work simply by learning to take a step back from overwhelm and insecurity. Here I share my top mindfulness tips that have helped me improve my ability to mange the day – because lets face it, problems will always exist but its how we deal with them that defines our experience. Although simple, these potent suggestions when applied regularly can really transform your day and mindset – increasing your energy, improving feelings of calm and allowing you to connect more deeply to what is happening here and now. It takes commitment and practice to make these things habitual but before long you’ll wonder how you coped without them!
6 mindfulness at work tips
Add a password reminder
I love this tip that I read somewhere years ago. Set your computer password to a quality that you wish to cultivate during the workday. It could simply have the word ‘mindful’ in it, or a character trait you’d like to focus on, I mean we could all do with a little reminder to be more ‘patient’ when we receive the 100th annoying email of the day.
Take three blissful sighs
When feeling symptoms of stress, find somewhere quiet to take three deep breaths in, sighing the exhale out loudly. This rapidly sends a signal to your brain that its okay to relax and you will immediately feel soothed and back in your body. Try it now and sense the difference for yourself. There is something deliciously simple about this one.
Do an afternoon meditation
The afternoon is a great time for a meditation, helping you to avoid the afternoon slump and revitalising you for the rest of the day. Book a recurring daily meeting in your diary and make the commitment that it’s a non-negotiable part of your day. Your colleagues will thank you for it!
Add some natural nourishment
Set your screensaver to beautiful images of nature and trees or get yourself a nice desk plant. Green plants have been shown to improve satisfaction and concentration levels. Sometimes just getting absorbed in nature for ten seconds can help us unravel.
Take a 2 minute breather
Start team meetings with two minutes of breath focus, consciously making the in breath and out breath the same length, counting as you go. This will help everyone to ground themselves into the moment and will rapidly change the energy in the room. You may feel a bit silly instigating this at first but encourage people to give it a go and you’ll be amazed at how good it feels. You may even notice attendance levels magically soaring!
Try a walking meditation
I’ve started to go for a walk when I feel my exhaustion or boredom levels starting to creep up. It can be done in as little as ten minutes yet you feel totally refreshed afterwards. Head out for a walk, ideally somewhere leafy but if not the street will do just fine. Start to take in all the things you can see – shapes, colours, patterns, then tap into the soundscape naming of all the sounds you can hear – simply enjoy the feeling of attending to your sensory experience. To top it off I like to imagine that my body is really heavy, letting my arms dangle from the shoulder, luxuriating in the fact I’m outside and moving my body. Also a great tactic for those times when you receive a trigger email, a little break allows you to come back to your inner wisdom before hitting send on a potentially career limiting (although totally justified Im sure!) response.
Up next: How does a meditation class work?
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