We all have moments of overwhelm in life. Especially now, organizations are facing a magnitude of changes in efforts to adapt to post-COVID workplaces.
Research by Zippia revealed that 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25% saying their job is the number one stressor in their lives. They also found that more than 50% of workers are not engaged at work as a result of stress, leading to a loss of productivity. Moreover, work-related stress costs $190 billion in annual health care costs in the U.S. To better manage stress and avoid burnout, leaders at all levels of an organization should incorporate mindfulness practice into the workplace culture.
What Is Mindfulness, Exactly?
Mindfulness means paying attention on purpose and without judgment. It sounds simple, but the truth is it takes skillful practice. In her book “The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm and Joy from Morning to Evening,” the author Laurie Cameron writes, “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises when we deliberately direct our attention toward our inner experience, toward others, and toward the environment around us. But more than just focusing your mind, it’s about your mindset—how you view the world.”
The positive effects of adopting a mindfulness practice have been well researched and documented. Mindfulness has been shown to improve focus and self-awareness, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote clarity and intentionality.
What I love most about mindfulness is its versatility. You can practice anywhere — in your cubicle, at the water cooler, in your car before entering your office building or before logging on to join a virtual meeting. The possibilities of where and how to bring mindfulness with you in daily practice are endless!
3 Powerful Mindfulness Exercises
To get you started on a daily mindfulness practice, here are three powerful exercises you can try when you are feeling overworked and overwhelmed at work. Remember, before practicing mindfulness be aware of your attitude and your intention. It’s also important to bring an open, curious and non-judgmental attitude into your practice.
What is it? Mindful walking is just as a sounds — intentionally focusing on the activity of walking. Some call this type of activity “savoring walks” or “awe walks.” Taking a mindful walk is something that you can do in the office or while working from home during your workday. It’s a simple way to bring a little mindfulness into action while also changing up the scenery of your workspace. It can be eye opening to walk a different path each day or to bring something into your awareness that is new or unique each time you walk.
How to do it: In as little as 20 minutes a day, set your intention to take a walk outside. Make a promise to yourself to walk rain or shine. As you walk, take in your surroundings using your senses — sights, sounds, smells and other sensations. Notice things in your environment that you may easily overlook such as a tall tree, a penny on the ground or the sounds of cars in traffic off in the distance. Notice the breeze on your skin as you walk in your environment. Pay attention to how your feet land on the pavement below you. Do you walk to a special cadence or rhythm? What about your internal and external feelings? What are you thinking about? What emotion is present in this moment? After your walk, reflect on your experience.
What is it? The body scan is a foundational mindfulness exercise promoting focus and awareness to bodily experiences (internal and external sensations). In other words, your body is the anchor of attention. It’s a useful exercise that can be as brief as three minutes and as long as 45 minutes. It can be done sitting in a chair or laying on the ground.
How to do it: Here is a body scan exercise script I created and shared at a workshop recently.
Get into a comfortable position. Take three slow deep breaths, in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. Scan your body for any tightness, tension, warmth or coolness. Starting with your feet, moving up your body to your legs, thighs, stomach, chest neck, face and the top of your head. Then moving down the back of the head, neck, upper and lower back, buttocks, your hamstrings, down to your feet. Continue breathing deeply focusing on your body in this moment. If you notice any tightness or tension anywhere, just breathe into it. If you notice any warmth or coolness, give that area some love and awareness, wish it well. Focus back on your breathing and on your whole body. Stay here for a little while, breathing and scanning the body. Then, when you feel ready, whisper a gratitude to yourself. It could be about anything you feel thankful for in this moment. When you are ready, open your eyes, bring your attention back to this moment and thank your body for being with you today.
What is it? Grounding is an active exercise that helps distract and reduce emotional intensity. The goal of grounding is different than mindfulness. For example, in grounding you are guiding your attention away from thoughts about the past, destabilizing experiences, and guiding it towards present safety according to the Brisbane Harmony Centre. Whereas, in mindfulness you are focusing on an anchor and allowing whatever feelings or sensations that arise to just be there without judgement and by bringing your attention back to the anchor if your mind wanders.
How to do it: Here is a popular Grounding technique called 5-4-3-2-1. To begin, take three deep breaths and exhale wherever you are right now. Look around and name five things you can see right now. You can say them around or whisper them to yourself. Take another deep breath in, and exhale. Next, name four things you can feel right now. Pause and take another deep breath and exhale. Then name three things you can smell. Breathe in, exhale. Now name two things you can hear right now. One last deep breath in, exhale and name one thing you are grateful for in this moment.
If you’re stressed at work and need a minute, take a mindfulness break with one of these three mindfulness exercises. You won’t regret it!
To learn more about mindfulness exercises that you can do in the workplace check out the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Shakima Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and subject matter expert (SME) on counseling and advocacy programs in her current role. Her government career spans 15 years, starting in the Navy. Kima completed her Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has held positions with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the Army. Kima is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion workplace issues. She earned a certificate from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Success. She also holds certifications in Executive Leadership and Women in Leadership Programs. You can connect with Kima on LinkedIn.
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