Four Science-Backed Strategies To Apply Mindfulness At Work

If going to work often feels like going to war, mindfulness can help reduce the stress level and help you be more productive, happier, and healthier.

As human beings, our brains aren’t wired to deal with things calmly and rationally. We often react to any incoming stimulus—a request from the boss, an e-mail, an annoying co-worker—emotionally before our rational mind can engage with the situation. That emotional response often proves unnecessarily stressful.

When we experience a negative stimulus, even when it’s something relatively minor, it triggers our fight or flight response. We get a dose of adrenaline. Our heart pumps a little faster. Our senses go into high alert. That’s hard on a body when it happens once. When it happens fifty times during the workday, it’s no longer healthy.

Luckily, mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is, in essence, an awareness of things going on around us and most importantly, within us. Any number of scientific studies have demonstrated that having control over a situation reduces stress levels significantly. Mindfulness is a way to wrestle control away from your emotional brain and give it to your rational brain, reducing stress and improving any number of the cognitive functions that you perform on your job every day.

So how can you apply mindfulness at work?

1. Count Your Breaths:

It takes practice and commitment. There are several techniques that you can use to get started, but what I find easiest is to start with counting breaths. Counting your breath is a trick to get your mind to focus on what your body is doing and experiencing. When your thoughts are focused on your body, you can no longer experiencing racing thoughts. Simply start counting your breaths. It doesn’t matter if you count one inhale/exhale cycle as one or two. What matters is putting a little bit of your mind to work doing something. At first you may find it can be difficult to keep your focus on counting breaths and do other things, but it will get easier as you practice. In the beginning you may easily lose count. It is about bringing your attention back to your breath. This recommitment is what is needed.

2. Neutralize Negative Feelings:

An easy process to neutralize negative feelings is as follows. When you are counting your breaths, you will naturally lose count, we all do. It is about noticing when your mind has strayed and putting it back on task. But also pay attention to where your mind wandered, and make a note—either mentally or physically—of where it went. Make a point to think about that subject later. Why did your mind wander there? Is it a source of stress or worry? Simply acknowledging to yourself how it makes you feel goes a long way to neutralizing the negative effects a stressor has on your body.

3. Respond With Awareness:

Counting your breaths is essentially tricking your brain into working differently. Counting breaths requires the use of your rational brain so when a stimulus comes in, your rational brain is already engaged. That doesn’t mean your emotional brain isn’t going to react, but it does mean your rational brain can take over before the emotion brain triggers a fight or flight response. If a stimulus makes you scared, your rational brain can acknowledge the fact and start to figure out why. More importantly, you can respond to your boss/e-mail/annoying coworker rationally instead of emotionally. That not only helps maintain your stress levels because you’re in control, it can help you refrain from escalating a mildly unpleasant interaction into something much worse.

4. Control Your Environment:

There are a number of other little things you can do to be more mindful and reduce the effects of stress. Each of these has to do with your environment. They seem small but by applying these tactics can have a big impact on your stress levels and productivity.

Don’t set your e-mail to notify you every time an email comes in unless you absolutely have to. Instead of getting a negative stimulus every time an email comes in, you can set aside some time each hour or two to address all those e-mails at once.

Put your cell phone in your drawer. If you can’t see it and hear it, you can’t react to it.

Arrive early for meetings and spend a few moments with your eyes closed focusing on your breathing and relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles. This is particularly useful if there is reason to think the meeting will be contentious.

Take lunch alone in a quiet place. Choose not to eat at your desk or in a crowded cafeteria. Instead, find an empty office or conference room, or eat in your car just so you can have several minutes uninterrupted by stressful stimuli. Focus on your breathing. Focus on relaxing.

Take small breaks throughout the day. Even if it’s just taking a few extra minutes when you go to the rest room, use those minutes to breathe, to relax, and to refocus.

Get help. Remember living mindfully is an ongoing practice. When you do it, you’re training your brain to act in a way that isn’t in your natural patterns. Investing in some coaching, like that offered here at Main Line Hypnosis can go a long way to getting you where you want to be, to creating the habits that will serve you  and can result in a happier, more productive life.