3 Mindfulness Tips to Reduce Work-Related Stress
Dean Ku M.A. '09
Work can be exceedingly stressful these days. There are too many meetings, calls, emails, and deadlines. Oftentimes we magnify our stress by worrying about the next thing on our to-do list, or second-guessing our competency, or anticipating how unpleasant it will be to deal with someone we don’t get along with.
Practicing mindfulness involves seeking to be present in the moment, staying in tune with your environment, and being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Learning to be mindful will help reduce your stress levels and improve your creativity, concentration, and connections with people.
Mindfulness practice begins with “mindful breathing.” This is simply the exercise of identifying and being conscious of the “in-breath,” when you draw air into your lungs, and the “out-breath,” when you exhale the air out of your lungs.
By bringing attention to your breathing, you can return to the present moment and clear your mind. Instead of worrying about your workday or dreading the next meeting, you can quickly recenter yourself. While this practice of mindful breathing is very simple in theory, it takes dedicated effort to build this into a habit with real benefits.
Here are three easy ways to bring mindful awareness into your workday:
1. Take Three Mindful Breaths When You’re Stopped at a Red Light *
Most of us commute to work, which can be stressful—not only because of traffic, but because we’re probably also thinking about work and personal issues. Transform the minor annoyance of stopping at a red light into a welcome reminder to take a few mindful breaths to help reset your mind and bring yourself into a state of awareness.
2. Don’t Answer Your Phone Until After the Third Ring *
At work, you may tend to pick up your phone right away. The initial ring may also trigger a stressful response because of a conversation you are dreading or not knowing who is calling and what they might want from you. So let that first ring become a gentle reminder to take several mindful breaths that will help clear your mind and recenter yourself. Don’t worry, no one will hang up after only three rings.
3. Practice Gratitude
Humans have a negativity bias. We tend to focus on what is wrong and dwell on the negatives in life. This behavior evolved over time and served our ancestors well—cavemen who were hyper-aware of danger had a better chance of avoiding death. Unfortunately, this tendency means that our thinking is often unbalanced and preoccupied with what’s not going well. Instead, practice gratitude. Science clearly shows that gratitude has many benefits, including better health, more empathy, stronger relationships, less stress, and increased happiness.
Choose one thing each day to be grateful for. Perhaps it’s the good fortune of having a steady paycheck, or having a co-worker who is supportive and a great friend. Being mindful of what’s going well at work will also improve your resilience and ability to be more optimistic and positive.
Work keeps us busy, and it may be challenging to implement these mindfulness tips. Consider downloading Headspace, an app that will train you to live more mindfully with hundreds of simple and short meditation and mindfulness practices. Good Luck!
*The above recommendations are explained in more detail in Peace Is Every Step, an excellent source of practical tips on how to practice mindfulness in our busy daily lives.