Mindfulness at work. How to be more mindful in our daily working lives.
The „new normal”
2020 has been an exceptional year and 2021 keeps on challenging us on all levels. Our lives have dramatically changed in many areas and we are still adapting and adjusting to this „new normal”. In many sectors, the digitisation has been pushed forward at a rapid pace and more and more activities are now taking place online. Many of us have had to discover a working model which has long been reality for many freelancers: the home office. In fact, we are in the middle of the biggest home office experiment of all times! Even though many have already settled into this „new normal”, times are uncertain. This uncertainty is the source of great stress for many people, which is not only unpleasant, but can make us seriously ill. Stress reduces our focus, our creativity, our resilience and our motivation. (Read more about what stress actually is in this article.) But help is just around the corner! Mindfulness and meditation are tried and tested methods to counteract and reduce or even to prevent stress from arising in the first place.
Companies are discovering the benefits of mindfulness
Many companies have already taken measures as part of their company health management system, to increase the resilience of their employees. Some offer massages, yoga or even meditation. Employees who meditate are happier, healthier and therefore more focused, more productive and less often ill. In fact, employees who work for these companies report that meditation has not only helped them to handle stress better – it has also improved the communication and atmosphere at work. Studies also show that accidents at work were less frequent in these companies. Isn’t it crazy (and wonderful!), what a little mindfulness can do …?
Tips from an MBSR expert
But what if you are a freelancer? Or if you work in a company which does not yet offer such services to their employees? One thing you can do is to let them know that I can help … 😉 But you can also take actions by yourself. In the following, I have compiled a list of tips which are easy to follow and implement for everybody. Many of these tips come from Saki Santorelli, an experienced and renowned MBSR trainer. I got this list in the 8-week MBSR course I did, and I find them so simple and useful that I’d like to share them with you here.
What each of us can do to be more attentive at work these days
Santorelli compiled these tips a while ago already and mostly only addresses the typical situation of employees working in a classical office environment, driving to work by car. I have thus adapted them to the current more fluid life situations we are living in today and added a few tips here and there. If you’re already quite mindful in your daily life, you’ll probably be familiar with some of the tips. However, I am sure that you can also use a little reminder from time to time. I speak from experience when I say that we probably all know so many good tips but, alas, we don’t always apply them. So let yourself be surprised! And feel free to share this list with everybody in your network who is under a lot of stress at work right now.
The Top 20 for more mindfulness at work
- Take 5 to 30 minutes every morning to be quiet with yourself. Meditate. Sitting or lying down, as you prefer. Play around and vary according to your daily mood. Look out the window, listen to the sounds of nature or the city. Take a short walk. Get in touch with yourself and the day, check how you feel inside you and check the energy of the day. And know that it is okay and already a lot to start with 5 minutes. This might make it easier to establish a habit which you can always do, no matter how long the to do list for the day might be.
- When you head off to work, take a minute to notice your breath. Just notice its quality – is it deep, shallow, fast, slow …? – and don’t judge it. Everything is good, just the way it is. What’s important is only this moment and that you take the time instead of mindlessly rushing off.
- On your way to work – in the car, on the bike, on the train – notice if there is tension in your body. Do your hands cramp around the steering wheel, the handlebars or the straps of your bag? Are your shoulders tight, is your stomach tense, do you breathe hectically, do you grind your teeth, is your jaw tight, is your forehead in a frown? Notice these tensions and allow them to be released. Ask yourself: Will I get there faster if I tense up? On the other hand, how does it feel to relax more?
- Take the conscious decision NOT to turn on the radio or your iPod, but to be with yourself.
- Take the conscious decision to slow down. Stay on the right lane with your car for the whole journey. And when you ride your bike: Stop at every red light and refrain from overtaking other cyclists just because you can. Slow down deliberately. If you’re walking, turn the way to work into a morning stroll. This may mean that you have to leave home earlier. Plan accordingly to avoid morning stress.
- When you come to a red light, use the time to notice your breath. Look around and become aware of your environment: the trees, the sky, the other people. Notice also your thoughts in this moment. Leave the mobile phone in your pocket.
- When you arrive at your workplace, take a moment to really arrive. Become aware of where you are and where you are going.
- Become aware of your physical perceptions throughout the day and release unnecessary tension.
- Use the breaks to really (!) relax. If you can: take a short walk instead of drinking coffee, smoking or reading.
- Regularly check your posture. Notice whenever there is tension and consciously let go. Get up every half hour and rotate your shoulders.
- If you can change the environment for your lunch break (= go out or at least, leave the room you were working in). This is also absolutely essential for those who work in the home office. If you have your own workroom or study, close the door for a while and deliberately relax. You can also close your eyes for a moment and meditate.
- Use the lunch break to talk to people who you’re close with and who make you feel good. Try to talk about topics which are not necessarily work-related.
- Take your lunch in silence once or twice a week. Use this time to eat slowly, consciously and mindfully and be with yourself.
- Implement a “stop” of 1 – 3 minutes into every hour, in which you become aware of your breath and of your body. Allow your mind to calm down during this time of introspection.
- At the end of the working day, try to review your day. Congratulate yourself on what you got done and make a list for the next day. You have done enough for today. Try to really feel that and make a cut here.
- Feel the cool or warm air outside as you’re leaving your workplace. Feel the coolness or warmth of your body. What happens if you open up to these environmental qualities and physical perceptions without evaluating them? Perceive the sounds outside. Can you walk without feeling you have to rush? What happens when you slow down?
- On your way home, take a moment to become conscious of the transition from work to home. Use the moment to just be. Like most people, you are about to move on to your next full-time job: your home.
- If you go by car or bike, be aware of your tempo again. Notice when you start going too fast. Can you change this? Notice that you have more control than you might think.
- As you come home, take a moment to consciously tune into being at home (with your family or alone). You don’t have to function and interact immediately. Even if you have a family or live with a partner or in a flatshare, it’s perfectly legitimate to retreat into your own room or into the bathroom for a few minutes, to close the door and settle in. If possible, allow yourself at least 5 – 10 minutes to be quiet and calm. Communicate this to the people you live with in advance to avoid tension, disappointment and misunderstandings.
- Change your clothes. This simple action can help you to slip into your „role” of a private person. When you’re ready, greet all members of your household. Take a moment to look them in the eye. If you live alone, experience and rejoice the silence of your home and the feeling of entering your very own world and safe space.
Extra tips for the home office
- When you sit down at your desk at the beginning of the working day, close your eyes briefly and settle in. Notice your breath and become aware of where you are.
- Take regular breaks and use this time to really relax: It’s better to go outside or step out onto the balcony for a short while instead of having another coffee, smoking, reading, making phone calls or surfing the Internet privately. Get away from the screen!
- Treat yourself to a real lunch break. Change the surroundings every now and then if you can. If you’re very isolated because you work and live alone, go on a lunch date with someone you like at least once a week. If you eat at home, don’t eat at your desk, but go into the kitchen, living room or dining room – if the weather is fine, eat outside, on the balcony, in a park, or on a bench in front of your house. Here you can even interact spontaneously with passers-by or neighbours and get some human contact without much effort.
- Avoid distractions and leave your private mobile phone aside as much as possible. This will only unnecessarily create a feeling of stress when you try to be available on all channels at the same time. The more focused you are, the calmer you are. It also helps you to get on with your work faster which in turn will make you feel more satisfied in the evening.
- Really close the chapter „work” at the end of the day. Look back, congratulate yourself on the work you’ve done and make a list for the next day (see point 15 above). If it helps you to switch off, change rooms, sit down for a moment and meditate or take a short walk.
- Celebrate the transition from work to private life. As you won’t change places to come home, you can be really creative here. Put new clothes on, put on your favourite perfume, take a shower, stand on your head, dance through your house to your favourite music turned on really loud … Find a ritual which is fun, which you enjoy and which helps you to really feel this transition. It’s important.
How about you? Do you have any other tips? Please feel free to share them in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you and your experiences!