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Why should you be more mindful at work?

Employing mindfulness can be an ever-growing challenge in an often hectic and technology-driven workplace. In today’s working environments, you can find yourself constantly challenged and distracted by phones, emails, different communication platforms which all require staying abreast of, meetings, working across different time zones and the pressure or expectation of being permanently plugged in and contactable 24/7. You can often find yourself like a pinball being fired constantly between different areas of business, with the expectation — because you live in an instantaneous world, where you can do so much on a screen in the palm of your hand — that you have to constantly deliver; where work boundaries can become blurred and are impactful in other areas of your life.

Stop. Take a deep breath in. Breathe out slowly.

Just writing the last paragraph felt quite exhausting. However, integrating mindfulness into your workplace and workday may help you to cope with the challenges you face every day. Let’s be honest; there are still going to be emails to answer, meetings to attend, deadlines to meet, transport to take and people to deal with. Those things will not necessarily go away and, as the workplace is ever-evolving in technological capacities in a bid to be more time-efficient, it is ironic that the toxic stress you can experience from all this juggling can become time-consuming as you find your energy, drive, motivation and productivity becoming increasingly chipped away at and potentially denting your happiness at work.

Technological gains in the workplace have many positive qualities, including being better connected with others. Nowadays, you can connect with people in other countries that you have never met before, you can find other like-minded souls on social media that have similar interests and hobbies and connect and learn from them. You can use real-time video on phones or computers to feel like you are in the same room as your loved ones when you talk, like watching your children taking their first steps or saying their first words when you are not able to be there physically. It also allows you to pick up small advantageous non-verbal communications such as body language during a video conference at work, which you wouldn’t glean over the phone. All these opportunities that present themselves to you are thoroughly amazing.

However, if you are constantly ‘switched on’ to technology and, ultimately, spend each day juggling all your requirements and distractions at work, these behaviours will start to impact you and cause you to operate on autopilot, which, over time, can become detrimental to your wellbeing.

So how can integrating mindfulness in the workplace be beneficial for you? It doesn’t have to mean sitting at your desk in the shape of a human pretzel and ‘omming’ — well, unless that is what works for you. You’ll be pleased to know you can integrate mindfulness in a few easy steps and build from there at your own pace and experiment with what works for you. Essentially, mindfulness is having self-awareness and awareness of the world around you and paying attention to it. In simplistic terms, it means taking the time to step out of autopilot or ‘doing mode’ and taking notice of what is going on by stepping into ‘being mode’; being fully aware of the present moment.

You may ask yourself, “How will I find time to do that, when I already have so many other areas I am trying to focus on?” and why would employing mindfulness into your working day be helpful for you?

You will have many types of autopilot and habits which currently control your life, many of which you may not consciously be aware of. However, if you are not consciously aware of your habitual triggers of thoughts and emotions, these can form unhelpful patterns which can then exacerbate and amplify emotions and the way you react to situations, like the feeling you get when someone is ‘pressing your buttons’! Mindfulness creates opportunities to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings and body sensations and, therefore, gives you greater autonomy to seek a different choice to the path that has been well-trodden through habitual autopilot choices; generally reactive, rather than responsive.

Mindfulness helps to set boundaries in the workplace by taking the time to understand, experience and pay attention to what makes you unhappy and what allows you to grow and thrive. Mindfulness allows you to gain clarity by paying attention and cultivating your awareness of what is going on around you. Without mindfulness and paying attention you may find yourself inviting in the unwanted guests of negative emotions that take hold and allow us to create a narrative of destructive beliefs, making challenging circumstances seem overwhelming and insufferable. When you are swamped by your autopilot that drives you down the familiar path of reaction, you can lose the wisdom of having a different choice available to you and forget that things can change and be different if you practice awareness.

Mindfulness is a known as a ‘practice’ because, while it could be argued that the skill of mindfulness is actually quite simple, it requires effort and awareness from you to change from habitual autopilot thinking to a different way of thinking. Mindfulness is everywhere and relates to elation, grief, desire and discomfort; what is important is that we are aware of all our emotions without being attached to them or — as is common — numbing them or disconnecting from them, which can ultimately rob you of having in-depth experiences with the people you work with.

Here are some exercises for you to try in your workplace. Remember to experiment and learn what works well for you and that you may need to practice these over and over again. Your mind is like your muscles; it requires regular strengthening.

Integrating Mindfulness into Your Workplace

  1. When you arrive at work, become aware of your workspace, spend a few minutes listening to the sounds around you. Note your reactions to them. What thoughts, emotions and feelings do the sounds evoke in you? How can you find more favourable ways to look at the sounds that are challenging you the most?
  1. Take a lunch break completely away from your workspace. Find somewhere to sit, without your phone or other distractions and take a mental break from your work. It is a perfect opportunity to recharge for the next part of your day. By taking a break you will be physically moving and therefore changing your energy state. This may allow you to gain greater clarity and creativity with a project you are working on.
  1. Morning Coffee or Afternoon Tea! Whether it’s caffeinated or not, a herbal tea or simply a hot water with a slice of ginger or a few mint leaves, get intimate with your drink. You may often find yourself grabbing a coffee for your morning commute or to take into a meeting with you, but do you truly relish and enjoy it or are you in autopilot at the time? Realistically, you may find, more often than not, that you are drinking without thinking; so, once a day, whether it’s your first drink of the day or your drink on your commute to work, try this:

Become aware of your drinking vessel, is it a disposable cup, a china mug, a cup and saucer, a travel mug? What is it made from? How would you describe the colour, the texture, the shape of it?

Next put your hands around it and feel the warmth.

As you lift it, feel how the liquid moves in the cup, perhaps you can feel a faint slosh.

Inhale your drink. What can you smell? What can you feel? Can you feel a slight mist on your face from the steam?

Lift the drink up and notice the sensation as you put the cup to your lips.

Taste your drink. What flavours can you taste? Are there different depths of flavour?

Notice the sensation of swallowing your drink. How far can you feel the drink travelling down your throat? Can you feel the warmth in your chest? If you’re drinking something other than water, think about where the tea, coffee or fruit has been grown, who has picked it, how far has it travelled?

Take your time to repeat the process to really savour your drink until it is finished. Take time out to do this as a single task rather than multitasking while checking emails or your phone. Dedicate all of your awareness to your tea or coffee ritual.

Remember to pick a good time for you in the day to do this so you can really savour this time and pay attention.

  1. Before you enter a challenging conversation with a colleague, ask yourself, “What do I most want to achieve positively from this?”
  1. Aim to perform one simple act of kindness for a colleague; it can be as simple as a sincere ‘thank you’ for helping you, making them a cup of coffee, asking them about something you know is important to them i.e. showing interest in them. For even greater mindfulness reward perform those acts of kindness for a colleague you find particularly challenging to work with. Pay attention to how they respond and how you feel.

References & resources:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/How%20to…mindfulness.pdf

https://positivepsychology.com/history-of-mindfulness/

https://mbct.co.uk

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/

Hilton, L., Marshall, N., Motala, A., Taylor, S., Miake-Lye, I., & Baxi, S. et al. (2019). Mindfulness meditation for workplace wellness: An evidence map. Work63(2), 205-218. doi: 10.3233/wor-192922

Lomas, T., Medina, J., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review and meta-analysis of their impact upon wellbeing. The Journal of Positive Psychology14(5), 625-640. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2018.1519588

Jamieson, S., & Tuckey, M. (2017). Mindfulness interventions in the workplace: A critique of the current state of the literature. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology22(2), 180-193. doi: 10.1037/ocp0000048

Antanaitis A. Mindfulness in the Workplace Benefits and Strategies to Integrate Mindfulness-Based Programs in the Workplace. OOHNA Journal. 2015;34(2):39-42.

Trunnell, E. P., & Braza, J. F. (2017). Mindfulness in the workplace. In Mindfulness: Nonclinical applications of mindfulness: Adaptations for school, work, sports, health, and general well-being., Vol. IV. (pp. 135–146). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

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