Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Coping with change: mindfulness techniques to reduce stress at work

The only thing we can say with certainty is that nothing stays the same for long! Increasing workloads and expanding job roles can leave even the most committed colleague feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, from time to time. This can impact on the quality of the work delivered, which in turn increases stress and pressure at work. The reality is that none of us can change what happens around us, however we can change the way we deal with it.

Work is often described as being the third biggest cause of stress. By learning how to manage the stress experienced at work – using some simple mindfulness practices – life balance (and productivity) can soon be restored. 

Mindfulness at work 

The term mindfulness is not new. However people tend to link it with self-help behaviours like meditation rather than the benefits it can bring to people’s working lives. This is changing, with health experts starting to recognise the physical effects that mindfulness techniques have on the body. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has cited reduced blood pressure, and a reduction in chronic pain as some of the physical benefits of mindfulness. While mindfulness based stress reduction is said to help cancer patients. This is alongside the more widely reported upturn in emotional wellbeing.

Mindfulness is about training the mind to think about things differently. More often than not, life – and work - is defined by a range of routines, tasks and practices. When these are changed, for whatever reason (holiday, illness cover at work, increased workload), it can really knock us off kilter. By rewiring our brain to approach situations differently, we leave ourselves more alert, more open to change and more able to deal with stressful situations.

What happens when we rush?

Faced with more to do and the same time in which to do it, there’s a tendency to rush our way through work without the usual care and attention. Getting things done, rather than doing a good job feeds anxiety and heightens stress. Mistakes can be costly, but it’s not just that. Stress releases adrenaline into the body which becomes addictive. We then begin to rush things that are non-urgent just to get the same feeling. Unfortunately, what we lose in the process of rushing is clarity. Clarity goes hand in hand with good judgement. Mindfulness helps us keep focused on our purpose.

Letting go of what you can’t control

It's common to stress over things we simply can’t control. However, this also has a habit of taking us out of the present which impacts on our effectiveness, as well as our happiness. By being honest with ourselves about what we can control we can consciously free ourselves from those we can’t. Worrying about something – even if it’s non-articulated – uses up valuable energy, energy that could be spent on something constructive. It’s easy to let go of some things – like the price of petrol, or the weather – and still be aware of them. Others can be trickier, like what people think, how they feel, what they do. Mindfulness helps us focus energy on the activities we can influence. 

Exercise while you work…

All mindfulness exercises are a form of meditation. Meditation is the simple practice of breathing, or rather focusing on our breathing. When experiencing stress, we usually exhibit a number of physical cues. The trick is to recognise these cues early on – and use a mindfulness exercise to disperse the stress before it has really taken hold. Everyone’s cues will be different, but examples include irritability with colleagues, daydreaming or losing focus during meetings. 

Exercise one: it only takes a minute 

Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and turn off all distractions (PC, phone etc). And breathe… That’s it. In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you. Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion. When the minute is up, reinstate your PC and phone and continue on with the day.

Exercise two: savour the moment 

Starting each working day with a feeling of gratitude for what we have makes us less likely to hold on to negative/stress inducing thoughts. Tea-breaks and lunchtime are excellent opportunities to practice this exercise. For example, rather than drink your cuppa while going through work papers or scrolling through messages, take a couple of minutes to really appreciate what you are doing. How the drink smells as you pour it, the warm feeling as your hands hold the cup, the relief and enjoyment as you drink it. Go back to your emails – or whatever you’re doing – after you’ve finished and see just how focused you feel.

Exercise three: something new 

To keep in the present, take time to try something new. Your senses will be heightened and you will be more aware of what’s around you. This works particularly well in meetings. Sit in a different seat, write with a different coloured pen or pick up your water glass with your non-dominant hand. These small actions, although seemingly insignificant in themselves, go a long way to keeping your brain switched on, so that you remain present and can give your absolute best at work.

To find out more about keeping calm at work, read our previous post.

Have you booked a place on our FREE Mindfulness-Based Resilience workshop for HR professionals/people managers? Find out more and book your place today!

No comments:

Post a Comment