24 Apr End overwhelm and stress at work: A mindfulness guide with 21 easy practices for calm and focus
How often do you face a tsunami of information at work? Nearly every day I bet. You open your email to dozens of requests that take you away from your core work. These emails flow in all day long – ping, ping, ping – asking for your time. As your work piles up, you become more and more anxious. You try to multi-task but you are still overwhelmed. Your brain isn’t focused at all.
Before you know it, it is the end of the work day. You’ve accomplished little on your to-do list and feel drained and depleted.
What would your day look like if you felt calm and focused even as that tsunami wave of information hit you? Many people have decided to embrace the practice of mindfulness at work to help them address stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and a lack of focus. You might think mindfulness is simply the act of meditation but it is so much more than that. Read on to learn more about what mindfulness is – and isn’t – and then look at 21 easy and practical tips to learn how you can apply it at work.
The Information Overload That Causes Our Mindlessness
Information overload is one of the major reasons many have turned to mindfulness. We now take in 5 times more information than we did in 1986. Every day, we process the equivalent of 100,000 words not counting television or online videos. This means we digest the equivalent of a book equivalent to War and Peace every week. Research suggests we are now bombarded with information equivalent to 147 newspaper articles every day.
- The average American receives 139 business emails daily (and sends out about 40 emails) and spends, on average, 2.5 hours reading and responding to emails.
- On average, people spend over 4 hours a day on their mobile phones. That is 86 hours a month!
- Americans check their phones 80 times daily according to a survey. Meanwhile, 31 percent of people feel regular anxiety when they are separated from their phone.
The result? Research now shows that people spend almost 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. In other words, many of us are operating on autopilot. Information overload helps to contribute to our wandering minds.
With all of this information, people are looking at tools that help us process and digest this information more effectively.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of non-doing. The practice isn’t necessarily about clearing your mind or stopping thought. Mindfulness is about paying attention and noticing what is going on including the thoughts that might be streaming in your head.
Mindfulness is being conscious or aware of something.
- You notice what’s going on around you
- You notice what’s going on within you
So, basically, mindfulness is about being in the moment, focused on the here and now. It is about being aware and awake rather than operating unconsciously.
Benefits of Mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness can help. And as you will see from the tips below, mindfulness isn’t just meditation either.
There are many proven benefits of mindfulness. Here are just a few of them:
- You make better decisions
- You are a better communicator
- You are more creative and innovative
- You engage more deeply
- You have greater resilience
- You have positive well-being
Mindfulness in the workplace
Being mindful in the workplace means being able to focus – something that many of us have a deficit of in this world. Two skills define a mindful mind: focus and awareness. The ability to maintain focus and concentration is every bit as important as technical or management skills.
Companies like Google, General Mills, and Genentechnow offer mindfulness programs to their employees. At work, one of your most precious resources is attention. If you can learn to harness and improve the quality of your own attention, you and your work will benefit.
The good news is that research shows you can create a more focused brain is trainable. The way to do that is through mindfulness exercises. Creating the practice of mindfulness. The more mindful exercises you do, the easier your brain finds it to drop into a mindful state, thus optimizing your brain function.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate mindful practices into your work day without taking any time away from what’s already on your to-do list.
Easy Mindfulness Tips
Want to incorporate mindfulness into your work day? Read the tips below and then create a simple-steps plan to get started.
The first six tips below are super easy and take virtually no time. They are short exercises that help you rebalance your nervous system, reduce your fight-or-flight response, and reinvigorate the ‘wise’ part of your brain to become more calm, clear, and focused.
- Take a 1-minute break: Pause from work, sit back, and refocus your attention on your senses. You don’t even need to close your eyes. Just 60 seconds to realign your thoughts.
- Pause to do some deep breathing: Deep breathing activates the part of the brain which is used for judgement, reasoning, and compassion. By contrast, shallow breathing activates that part of your brain which is focused on your fight or flight mode.
- Observe how you are sitting or standing: Take a moment to notice your posture. Are you sitting upright or slouched over? Taking a moment to become aware of your body helps you step into the moment. Plus, you might improve your posture along the way!
- Notice the mundane tasks: Give your full attention to those small and mundane tasks like washing your hands, pouring your coffee, opening a door, dialing a phone number. Notice your breathing as you wait for the elevator.
- Savor your lunch (or at least your first bite): You gotta eat lunch right? Detach from work and take the time to actually taste your food. Notice the texture. Notice the temperature. Enjoy your food with a mindful lunch.
- Use forced breaks to take a mental break: You gotta walk to your meetings right? Why not use that walk for a 20-second recharge? While you walk, notice the walk itself. Take a moment to soak in your environment, the sounds, smells, and temperature.
Taking Mindfulness to the Next Level
These tips help you take mindfulness practice to the next level and still not spend a lot of time.
- Create a start-of-the-day ritual: Begin your work day with a ritual that sets you up for your day. You can dedicate a little time to exercise, a walk, or just some quiet moments to journal. Creating a morning routine (which can be as short as 10 minutes) can be significant for the rest of your day. To create your own morning routine, grab my free guide to create your personal morning routine.
- Become a single-tasker: Adopt mono-tasking and ditch multi-tasking. In truth, your brain doesn’t really multi-task. It simply switches from task to task. Multi-tasking is not productive at all. Task-switching is the epitome of anti-productive, reducing productivity by as much as 40 percent. Make a commitment to just do one thing at a time.
- Remove distractions: While you are working, silence your phone, log off email, remove Facebook pop-ups, and mute your work chat. Give yourself a good chance to focus. Your brain will thank you.
- Unclutter your workspace physically and mentally: Clearing that space around your desk and decluttering your workflows can be a good mindfulness practice. When your space and systems are less clutters, your productivity will increase.
- Limit email: Email addiction is a real thing. Most of us spent every spare moment checking email. Instead of checking email all day long, consider scheduling checking your email only 3-4 times a day. This helps you reduce distractions and focus on one thing at a time.
- Adopt a meditation practice: In as short as 3 to 5 minutes a day, you can adopt a meditation practice that helps to train your brain to focus on the moment. There are many free apps out there like Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer to help you get started.
- Create a ‘pause’ & set an intention before your work day: Before diving into work, create a little space to pause and observe. Set your intention for the work day. Get a clear idea of what you wish to accomplish, how you want to feel, and how you want to interact with others. Set this intention by writing it down. Answer these questions: What three things do you want to accomplish today? How do you want to feel? How do you want to engage with others?
- Let go of your phone: Be honest, is your phone a bit of a crutch? Do you check it any second you are not otherwise doing something else? Do you check it while you are in a meeting? We are all guilty of our phone addictions some more than others. Consider letting go of the urge to check email every 5 minutes by leaving your phone when you go into a meeting or just resisting the urge to check while you are on the go.
- Take a mindful walk: Once a week, use your lunch hour to take a mindful walk somewhere (ideally outside) without your phone and without focusing on work. Use that time to step away from your phone to just be away from the office.
- Create an end-of-day work ritual: Create an end-of-day plan where you wrap up work and create a smooth transition to the evening. How often are you leaving your office with documents left open, emails left in draft, and your to-do list left half finished? You run out the door and hardly remember your commute home. Create that ritual to close up your workspace (regardless of what is or isn’t finished) so you can make a transition to the evenings activities.
- Practice gratitude at work: We always feel behind. We never quite feel excited by what we can achieve at work because we always feel there is more to be done. The practice of gratitude is a scientifically proven. Gratitude has also been shown to increase mental strength, so you’ll be ready to tackle tomorrow with even more resilience.
Mindfulness Tip to Address Stress & Overwhelm
The workplace can sometimes be a place of stress. So the idea of introducing mindfulness to this space might seem crazy. But, mindfulness is a powerful tool to respond to stress. So how can you do it in the workplace?
- Respond instead of react: The process of learning how to respond — instead of react — is tough but important. Mindfulness teaches us something called the “pause.” Instead of reacting immediately and then expressing anger, frustration, or sadness, we will want to take a pause. During that pause you will want to observe what happened, how that has triggered a reaction within you, and then consider a more thoughtful and compassionate response. Learn more here
- Slow down to speed up: When you are hit with overwhelm and in a panicky rush, you will likely be more unfocused and make more mistakes. But when you slow down, you give your brain a chance to regroup and become more efficient. Sometimes the best way to respond to overwhelm is not to dig into more work, but to slow down.
- Practice ‘radical acceptance’: When we obsess over problems, we tend to magnify them. When you practice radical acceptance, you accept the circumstances even if you are unhappy with the result. This does not mean you agree with what happened or even buy into the problem. Instead, radical acceptance means you acknowledge what has happened and are then able to take next steps (to respond instead of react per above) with a better frame of mind.
- Make stress your friend. You might not believe this but research has shown that people who believe stress is good for them have lower mortality rates. Changing the way you think about stress can help you deal with it better. When you face a challenge at work, notice how your body responds, and try viewing that response as positive.