Applying the practice of mindfulness
Mindfulness is not just a trend in your local yoga studio, health-food store or for the trade journals. You don’t have to escape to an ancient Eastern temple or Ashram in India to be mindful. Rather, mindfulness is a practice we can bring to our desks at work.
Mindfulness is about being present in the here and now. By being present, we let go of the past and are no longer consumed by worries of the future.
Mindfulness is not only good for individuals — it’s also good for a business’s bottom line.
Mindfulness-based programs have been instituted in business schools, public universities and treatment centres in hospitals. So how can people practise it in a workplace where multitasking is the norm and concerns for future profits can add to workplace stress?
3 steps to creating a more peaceful workplace
When individuals lose their sense of purpose, they are at higher risk of developing career burnout. Career burnout is characterized clinically by a loss of passion, physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
It can lead to stress-related illnesses such as insomnia, anxiety and ulcers.
Even if a company doesn’t make mindfulness-based techniques part of the culture, these three mindful living techniques can improve stress levels and help people feel like they are connected to a sense of purpose.
Stop multitasking, try mono-tasking
Employees and managers can substitute their multitasking habits with mindfulness in order to reduce stress and increase productivity.
The result? An employee will notice he is sharper, more efficient and more creative.
The physiological benefits of clearing away distractions and living in the moment have been documented in many scientific and medical studies. Practising mindfulness — whether it’s simply taking deep breaths, meditating or doing yoga — has been shown to alter the structure and function of the brain, which is what allows us to learn, acquire new abilities and improve memory.
Advances in neuro-imaging techniques have taught us how these mindfulness-based techniques affect neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to change, grow new connections and learn new patterns.
Multitasking, on the other hand, depresses the brain’s memory and analytical functions, and it reduces blood flow to the part of the right temporal lobe which contributes to our creative thinking.
In today’s marketplace, creativity is key for innovation, sustainability and leadership.
Mono-tasking is a mindful solution and involves focusing on one task at a time. Start by focusing on a single task for an allotted amount of time, preferably in five- to 15-minute increments. For example, for five minutes, read through emails. Then, for the next block of 15 minutes, return phone calls.
If your job comes with constant interruptions that demand your attention, take several deep breaths and then prioritize them. Resist the urge to answer the phone every time it rings.
If someone asks you to drop what you’re doing to help with a problem, it’s OK to tell him: “I’ll be finished with what I’m doing in 10 minutes — then I’m all yours.”
Adopt an attitude of gratitude
When was the last time you expressed sincere and genuine gratitude to an employee or colleague for a job well done? When people cite job-related stress as their biggest problem, they often state they would forego a pay raise or bonus during troubled economic times in lieu of simple and genuine gratitude.
While we may tell important people in our life how we feel about them, the challenge in professional relationships is to be present and show gratitude regularly.
Scientific studies based in positive psychology show that people who are grateful lead happy lives — and the same data translates to employees. When an employer expresses gratitude, it is more likely to have happier, healthier and more productive employees.
Some might ask why it’s necessary to express gratitude to an employee who completed an expected duty. But when someone is constantly “showing up” and is not acknowledged, she will feel as if she is being taken for granted.
It doesn’t matter that the task is in her job description— that person had a choice to be present and complete that task. The first step in shifting to an attitude of gratitude is acknowledgement.
Take a breath break
When emotional stress is high, this elevates stress-related hormones in the brain and the body such as cortisol and insulin. An activated stress response leads to illness, decreased mental clarity and depressed mood.
To be mindful at work is as simple as scheduling a breath break in between tasks or once every hour.
Inhale deeply through the nose and then exhale through the mouth. Repeat this breathing cycle at least ten times.
One to three minutes of deep breathing is enough to drop the stress hormone levels, reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain.
While it is possible to practise mindfulness in a hectic workplace, business leaders should make it part of the company culture — especially since stress-related illnesses are a top cause of missed workdays.
Offering mindfulness training and yoga classes or giving people a time and place to meditate is an excellent investment — a company’s performance will improve and there will be a reduction in stress-related illnesses, along with more successful employees.
Romila Mushtaq is a board-certified physician with expertise in mind-body medicine. She is also a corporate health consultant and professional health and wellness life coach at the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine in Orlando, Fla. For more information, visit www.brainbodybeauty.com.