Mindfulness At Work: 5 Tricks For A Healthier, Less Stressful Work Day

06/24/2013 10:08 am ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013
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"Meditation is an act of sanity," scientist and writer John Kabat-Zinn told Google employees in a mindfulness session at the company's headquarters in 2007. Six years later, Google incorporates mindfulness into their "Search Inside Yourself" training, and meditative practices have become common in businesses from Silicon Valley to Wall Street.

Many corporations and employees are realizing that the benefits of mindfulness practices can be dramatic. In addition to supporting overall health and well-being, mindfulness has been linked to improved cognitive functioning and lower stress levels.

“Mindfulness essentially means awareness," Dr. Danny Penman, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World, tells the Huffington Post. "Becoming aware of what’s going on around you can make a huge difference, because we spend so much time wrapped up in our thoughts that we lose contact with the real world. That’s especially the case if you’re constantly bombarded by email, Facebook posts and Twitter. It’s not really conducive to a calm and productive work environment. “

If you're one of the more than eight in 10 employed Americans who are stressed out by their jobs, try these five mindfulness tricks that could help you feel more in control of your everyday work life.

1. Practice "strategic acceptance."

When you get stressed out and start thinking of every little setback in catastrophic terms, your mind tends to accept this black-and-white thinking as the absolute truth, which creates even more stress. But really, this thinking is a just product of our emotional reaction to a situation. When you find your stress levels rising, don't try to force yourself to cheer up or calm down, Penman says. The first step to returning to equilibrium is to simply accept the way you currently feel.

"If you accept that that is how you feel at this moment, you take the sting out of your emotion, and out of the stress, anger, worry and unhappiness," says Penman. "The act of observation and the act of accepting the situation is tremendously powerful."

But this doesn't mean resigning to a bad situation at work -- it’s a matter of accepting how things are at this moment before making a plan to do what you can to improve them.

“It’s a strategic acceptance, the way a general will accept the situation when he is going into the heat of battle," says Penman. "He may not like it, but by accepting it, he can then find a solution.”

2. Try a three-minute breathing space.

The best (and easiest) way to become more mindful at work, according to Penman, is to periodically take what he calls a "three-minute breathing space." At your desk or in a quiet space, take three minutes to stop what you're doing, inhale and exhale deeply and focus your attention fully on the breath and then the body as a whole.

"You do that two or three times a day, and it will transform the day," says Penman. "If you're feeling especially frantic, a three-minute breathing space will help clarify your thoughts, calm down your whole approach to life and will make you so much more productive and on-the-ball. It’s just transformative."

Click here for more detailed instructions and a downloadable guided breathing space meditation.

3. Tune into distractions around you.

In open-concept offices in particular, distractions are rampant, whether they're in the form of a noisy neighboring coworker, loud typing or phones going off. But paradoxically, Penman says that paying attention to those distractions rather than trying to tune them out can be a good way to prevent them from stressing you out. Gently notice the sounds and see if you can become aware of the effects they have on your body. The observation tends to rob the distractions of their power.

"When you get distracted and stress, you might start tensing up in your stomach, neck or shoulders," says Penman. "The simple act of observing the effects of stress and worry on the body causes our tension to run into the sand."

4. Take breaks.

There is evidence to support the idea that taking regular breaks during the workday can boost productivity and creativity. So instead of eating in front of your computer while plowing through your follow-up folder, try taking a tech-free lunch break, in addition to leaving your desk for several shorter breaks throughout the day. If you're struggling to accomplish a task that requires innovative thinking, a break could be just the creative boost you need, says Penman.

“Breaks give your mind space to digest information," says Penman. "It's very important to daydream, to let your mind run free at the deepest level. That’s the source of creativity -- taking disparate ideas from different disciplines and putting them together. You can’t really do that consciously. It’s something that the brain just does naturally below the surface. And then the solution will just bubble to the surface."

For an effective mini-break to help you focus on the task at hand when you can't leave your desk, try this 30-second email meditation.

5. Find a time to unplug

With constant email access, it's easy to stay plugged in all day at work and outside the office. But this 24/7 connectivity could be taking a toll on our health: Studies have found that excessive reliance on technology could make us more distracted, impatient and forgetful. Recently, digital detox retreats have sprung up as a way for stressed-out workers to truly get away from it all, more and more individuals are electing to take weekly "technology shabbats," and many of us are looking for ways to live our tech-saturated lives more mindfully.

"Technology kind of compresses the time that we have to evaluate information," says Penman. "We’re constantly bombarded with information, and the only solution is to switch off for a while."

It may seem impossible at work, but taking even short breaks from technology can help keep stress levels at bay and boost productivity. Try leaving your smartphone at your desk when you leave for lunch or finding a quiet, tech-free area for a three-minute breathing space in the afternoon. And on the weekends, consider taking an afternoon or a full day to unplug so you can return to work on Monday feeling recharged.

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