Practicing Mindfulness in the Workplace

As fall kicks into gear and to-do lists grow longer, stress seems unavoidable. But it’s important to give our minds and bodies a break; our wellbeing and productivity depend on it.

“Research has shown that we literally can’t do it all,” says Mary Jo Kreitzer, Ph.D., R.N., founder and director of the Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota. “When we’re trying to do too many things at once, we’re dividing our brain up and putting less effort and level of detail into each individual activity.”

A 2009 study found that people who multitasked (like emailing, texting, watching TV and writing a paper at once) were less attentive and had poor memory. In fact, the brain can only handle two tasks –at most – concurrently, a 2010 French study found.

That can lead to workplace injuries or errors, and of course strain our mental and physical health. Practicing workplace mindfulness can help.

“Being present in the moment increases our awareness of our surroundings – both the good and the bad,” Kreitzer said.

Mindfulness has been linked to reduced stress and improved mental clarity, creativity and productivity. This can prevent argument escalation in work relationships. Rather than acting on emotions, a mindful approach allows one to stop, process the situation, and choose how to respond.

Alex Haley, J.D., assistant professor at the Center for Spirituality & Healing who teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction, compares workday stress to inflating a balloon.

“As the day progresses, the balloon inflates, and pressure builds until the balloon eventually pops,” Haley said. “Let some of that air out now and then.”

Even on a busy day, Haley says you can find time to reduce stress. He suggests these quick exercises to practice mindfulness in the workplace for when your time is limited, but stress level is high.

Five Minutes: Wellness Walk

Get away from your desk. Find a space with windows or greenery; go outside if you can. Walk around and let your mind shift gears. Pay attention to your body moving through space.  Intentionally reset your mind and body.

Three minutes: Mini Meditation

Simply taking time to not do something can relieve some stress. “Just don’t have an agenda,” Haley said. Clear your mind and reconnect to yourself. It can work sitting, standing, eyes open or eyes closed. If it’s difficult, add in diaphragmatic (deep) breathing from your belly.

One Minute: Deep Breaths

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. A purposeful approach to this physiological routine for any interval of time can relax the mind and body.

15 Seconds or Less: Yawn it Out

“Yawning takes some of the extra charge out of anxiety,” Haley said. “You want enough wind in the sail to move the boat, but not too much.”

For more tips on how to enhance your health and wellbeing, visit the Center for Spirituality & Healing’s Taking Charge website.