Mindfulness at work: How simple habits can help beat stress and challenges

01 December 2020

Whatever your job, stress and anxiety are bound to creep in at some point or another. And right now, we've all been faced with certain challenges that have likely affected our performance in the workplace. But with so many phone calls, emails and presentations – not to mention your own duties – to deal with, how can we fit mindfulness into our already busy schedules?

Luckily, developing habits and techniques that can help us to de-stress, re-focus and boost productivity are easy to do. While such methods require practise and are not simply a quick fix, the results can be hugely powerful and rewarding – equipping you with approaches and abilities to deal with the challenges that the workplace can create.

Here are some simple habits that you can do on a daily basis to reduce work-related stress.

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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental manner. It allows us to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, without being overwhelmed by events and situations going on around us.

Everyone has the ability to be mindful; it's just something that has to be learned in order to access its benefits. There are many different mindfulness techniques that can be used, but crucially, they all have the potential to be less stressed, calmer and kinder to ourselves.

man relaxed at work

Mindfulness in the workplace

Since our jobs can be a source of stress, it's important to have some mindfulness techniques at our disposal. And with many of us working from home right now, the distinction between work and home has become blurred.

Free time that would usually be used to wind down may be taken up with work tools like e-mail, social media and chat platforms that make it difficult to switch off when you need to. Mindful techniques can allow us to make sure we're unwinding and relaxing in a meaningful, appropriate way.

And because mindfulness can allow us to improve our focus, it can also help with maintaining our quality of work. Attempting to multi-task can often see our work suffer; by practising mindfulness, we can keep coming back to the present moment over and over again, allowing us to become more focused.   

woman smiling holding cup of tea

Also, mindfulness isn't about stopping our thoughts but rather, reframing these thoughts, sensations and emotions in a different way so we can make sense of them more clearly. And some huge companies like Google, Apple and Procter & Gamble have started using mindfulness programmes to help their employees grow personally and professionally.

Whether your company offers a similar programme or not, you can use the below techniques to help yourself be calmer and more present through the working day.


Mindfulness techniques you can use at work

Take scheduled, mindful breaks

Use short five-minute breaks throughout the day as opportunities and reminders to bring your attention back to the present moment. You could try focusing on your breathing for the duration, for instance.

Any time your mind wanders to a work-related issue, just bring your attention back to your breathing. Try it daily for a week and with each week, add another break to your daily amount. Eventually, your breaks will become increasingly mindful and more effortless.

Take the time to get out of your chair too and move around. Doing so will help reduce the risk of developing problems like visual fatigue, back issues, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome.

relaxed man at work

Alternatively, do a "desk body scan", and try the following:

  • Sit up tall in your chair
  • Beginning with the feet, slowly scan upwards through the body, noticing any sensations
  • Soften and relax tight muscles
  • Stretch the neck, shoulders and arms
  • Breathe deeply

Try meditation or yoga

Meditation and yoga have proven to be hugely powerful ways of improving our physical and mental health. Try downloading one of the many meditation apps that are now available (Headspace is particularly popular) to help get you started.

These guided activities require practise, but can lower stress levels, retrain thinking patterns, and improve focus – all of which can help us approach our work from a fresh, new perspective.

Similarly, yoga has been shown to have comparable benefits with the added plus of limbering up the body – another way of combating soreness and back pain which can interfere with our work throughout the day. 

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Stop multi-tasking

Despite what people say, nobody can really multi-task effectively. Constantly switching from task to task sends your brain into overload and often results in sloppy work.

Instead, try picking a task and work on it until completion. While it may seem like spreading your focus across many tasks can be more effective and productive, it's far better to slow down and commit to being present on the single task at hand.

By focusing on your attention, the act of working in the present – rather than thinking ahead to the next task – allows you to better enter a state of workflow that's far more productive in the long term.

woman on zoom call with colleagues

Remind yourself to be mindful

The key to being mindful is repetition. Despite our best efforts, we can sometimes forget to be mindful, and we revert back to our autopilot-like, unconscious state.

Although this allows us to do things automatically by instinct, it also means we can get lost in thought, which can negatively impact our wellbeing. If you operate in this unmindful way, you can't be in the right frame of mind to respond appropriately to the working day.

Try using a reminder to snap you out of autopilot. A vibrating alarm on your phone, that won't disturb others, can work here.

Every time the alarm rings, take a mindful breath and use it as an opportunity to come back to the present moment and see your surroundings anew. This allows you to take a step back and reflect rather than automatically, unconsciously responding to demands and tasks that are coming your way.

Leave your work at work

Although the boundaries are somewhat blurred right now, it's important to be able to switch off and turn your home office back into your home so you can relax and recharge. Instead of being tempted to check email or work an extra hour or two, do your best to leave work at the workplace, even if you're doing that remotely at the present time.

man relaxing with his french bulldog

At the end of the day, try the following simple exercise known as R.A.I.N. This can help us stay in the present moment rather clinging to our duties and the emotions associated with them. Do the below:

  • RRecognise. Acknowledge what is happening, noting events in a calm and accepting manner.
  • AAccept. Understand that we can't change things that are out of our control. Accept the situation for what it is.
  • IInvestigate. Whether things are making you upset or happy, note how they make you feel. 
  • NNon-Identification. Realise that these sensations will pass.

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