How much would you enjoy practicing mindfulness at work?
It sounds crazy because as you know, the office is full of stress, distraction, and pressures that make you want to escape the here and now.
But imagine this…
What if your office distractions and stressors could become mindful triggers?
What if instead of allowing these every day nuisances to cause irritation, you used them as gentle reminders to come back to the present moment?
Here are 10 simple mindful triggers to help you connect to your meditative practice in one of the most challenging environments of your day – the office.
Why it’s important to practice mindfulness at work
Part of mindful practice is developing an awareness both on and off the meditation cushion.
Because the world beyond the controlled environment of your meditation space can be chaotic and unpredictable, it’simportant to be able to return to the present moment regardless of the situation you find yourself in.
Now this is certainly easier said than done, especially in stressful places like busy commuter trains, traffic jams, and the office.
Yet when you consider the fact that the average workweek for full-timers has risen to 47 hours (1), learning how to practice mindfulness while still on the clock can be highly beneficial.
Whether for your health, wellbeing, family life, and boost to your overall productivity, mindfulness has many benefits to offer. Conveniently for you, useful triggers to help you with your practice are all around. You just need to learn how to use them!
The health benefits of practicing mindfulness at work
Sitting at your office chair should be done with the same level of awareness as sitting on your meditation cushion.
It just comes down to practice.
By making a habit of connecting with your breath and routinely checking in with how your body feels, you may not only become better at your job, but also happier, healthier, less stressed, and easier to get along with.
A mindfulness practice in the office will encourage you to take routine breaks from your work and allow your brain and body to relax in between. The benefits of taking breaks, even momentary ones, are numerous and include things such as:
- Getting away from your desk and more active while on the job
- Improving your productivity and promotes focus
- Helping you make healthier food choices
- Assisting you in stress management
- Improving your home life
- Encouraging you to breathe and acknowledge your connection with the world
Getting away from your desk
If you’re like me, you likely spend a lot of time sitting whether hunched over a computer or watching television. Your body enjoys physical activity and generally feels better when you regularly get up and move around.
Most people spend an average of 19 hours per day sitting stationary (2). There is a growing body of evidence that stresses the dangers of prolonged sedentary postures including risk of early death, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (3).
Even if you’re struggling to find time to get to the gym or commit to an intensive fitness program, simply getting up and walking around your floor can help burn excess calories, wake up tired muscles, and in the long-term, can help with weight management.
Becoming aware of how your body feels and how long you’ve been sitting idle in one position helps to encourage regular small breaks away from your desk. Not only have these small breaks been found to be beneficial to your physical body but also might help improve your productivity levels as well.
Studies have found that taking a break from your work actually boosts your productivity (4).
When you’ve been working on a single task for hours on end, your brain will eventually lose interest. The work is no longer interpreted as important and your attention span starts to wander off.
Changing your focus, even for a short period of time can help improve productivity levels as well as boost creativity. By coming back to work with a new perspective, you’re able to look things over with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm.
Stepping away from your desk, getting your body moving and allowing your mind to take a break from the pages of spreadsheets, invoices, or drawings can help it actually focus later on when you return to your work.
By learning to check in with your body and connecting with the present moment, you become more aware of when a mental break is in order. Before you find yourself feeling fatigued or making errors, find time for your mindful practice. You might just be pleasantly surprised how much time it saves you in the long run and how much better the quality of your work becomes.
Healthier food choices
Learning to listen to your body and feed your hunger with wholesome nutrition is essential in maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your risk of developing several diseases, as well as sustaining energy levels.
When you are stressed or completing highly challenging tasks, you’re more likely to choose unhealthy food choices (5). It also doesn’t help when work environments make junk food and caffeinated or sugary stimulants widely available.
Learning to become aware of your food cravings before you reach for your lunch bag or dive into your snack drawer, can help you better learn how to assess you’re feeling at a given moment.
If your body is telling you that its hungry, it might be a good time to eat. However, if you’re mindlessly craving some junk food, it might be a good indicator that you are manifesting stress and could benefit from stepping away from your work.
Take this time to clear your head and become aware of what your body needs before mindlessly reaching for a chocolate bar.
Becoming aware of your thoughts, improving your focus, and learning how to manage your reactions to difficult situations are just some of the benefits of regular mindful practice.
These skills are useful coping mechanisms in everyday life, particularly in stressful environments such as your office.
Stress in the workforce is a serious issue, and it’s on the rise. The approximate cost of job stress (including factors such as accidents, days off, reduced productivity, employee turnover, and medical bills) costs the American industry upwards of $300 billion per year.
The American Psychological Association has conducted numerous studies on workers in the U.S. and found some disturbing news:
- 65% of employed Americans reported work to be their primary source of stress, over one third of which reported to suffering from chronic work stress
- only 37% of survey respondents felt they were doing a good or very good job at managing their stress levels
- just 36% of people reported that their place of employment provided enough resources to help manage their stress (6)
If left unmanaged, chronic stress can lead to the development of numerous health conditions such as obesity, depression, heart disease, sleep deprivation, as well as maladaptive coping mechanisms such as addiction and substance abuse.
Mindful practices have been found to be beneficial in numerous benefits such as stress management and improved overall well-being (7).
Better home life
After a long and hard day, it’s really easy to take out work stress and frustrations on family and friends. In fact, it is so easy, that according to a recent study, at least half of us are doing it (8).
Holding onto stress from the office can negatively impact your health, relationships, family dynamics, and the quality of work you produce.
As previously noted, chronic stress increases your risk of developing numerous diseases, particularly cardiovascular ones. Other common adverse reactions to stress include loss of sleep, which can also increase your risk of developing conditions such as hypertension and stroke (9).
Research has found that workers who are more physically active throughout the day and sleep better are less likely to bring home the effects of office mistreatment (10).
Mindful triggers help as little reminders to make you more aware of what your body needs during the day, including breaks, stretches, or simply getting away from your desk. It helps you notice signs of stress early on and release your attachment to negative and potentially destructive emotions.
Mindful triggers in your office
1. Office doors
Before you even enter the doors to your office, take a moment to return to your breath.
Work can be an exhilarating, challenging, and at times extremely stressful place. Align yourself with your mindful practice before the work day has even started.
If you leave the office regularly throughout the day, use the doors as a visual que to re-align yourself with the present moment.
Each time you walk through these doors, make a mental note to check in with yourself and realign with your breathing. Whether you’re excited about a meeting or nervous about a presentation, just know that right now, all you have to do is simply walk through these doors. One step at a time.
2. The ringing of a telephone
Ringing telephones can easily get under your nerves if you let them, especially if you work in a busy or open concept work environment.
Each time you notice the sound of a ringing phone, allow it to serve as a reminder to return to the here and now. If you’re finding yourself experiencing anger, frustration or annoyance, simply notice these emotions and allow them to pass through your mind without any attachment.
Imagine the ringing telephone like a Tibetan singing bowl, gently drawing your attention back to the breath and connecting you with your body.
3. The sound of a colleague laughing
Chatting co-workers can cause disruption to your train of thought and interfere with your work.
Instead of becoming frustrated, try to use the sound laughter, an auditory reflex expressing someone’s pleasure or joy as a reminder to smile and be present.
Share in their happiness by smiling and inviting joy into this moment.
Laughter shared between people can be a bonding experience, and generates feelings of positivity amongst those sharing it (11).
If you’ve been sitting stationary for too long at your desk, maybe use this as a trigger as an invitation to experience gratitude for this moment with a smile. If you’ve been sitting too long, take a walk and feel free to smile and enjoy the ripple effect of these positive vibes.
4. Coffee breaks
As the office air starts filling with the familiar aroma of coffee or steeping tea, allow these smells to serve as a cue to take inventory of how your body is feeling.
Take care to regularly fuel yourself with nutritious snacks and replenish your energy levels. Instead of jumping into your automatic mode of guzzling down a pot of coffee and sweet treats, become aware of whatever it is you need at this moment.
If you’re hungry, resist the urge of choose an unhealthy snack. If you’re thirsty, perhaps this is a good time to hydrate and get a glass of water. If you’re tired, instead of jumping right into the caffeine, try going for a quick walk, even if it is just around your floor or popping outside for a moment for some fresh air.
Coffee time, aside from just the food and caffeine, is also a good time to catch up with co-workers. Socializing with colleagues during these routine breaks has been found to be beneficial in increasing the strength of a person’s social groups within the office (12).
5. Office gossip
Although there are both positive and negative forms of gossip in the office (13), the tendency to engage in the latter can become a destructive habit.
Each time that you find yourself engaging in conversations that are spreading rumors or negativity, walk away.
Non-judgementally acknowledge that this conversation does not serve you and move on either from the topic or the discussion itself.
6. Message alerts
The average American checks their phone 46 times per day according to a study conducted by Deloitte (14).
Instant message alerts, either on your phone or computer are incredibly distracting. Whether it is the noise or visual prompts, messaging interferes with your work and can make you less productive.
Each time a new message appears, take a breath and bring your awareness back to your space. Recognize that you don’t need to check or respond to this message right away. You can take several breaths to enjoy the moment it has connected you to.
When you’re ready to take a break and get away from your desk, then use this time to check your messages if you wish. Avoid the temptation and anxiety of always feeling like you need to check or respond messages right away.
7. Social media prompts
Social media has become an important part of life for many Americans. Whether at home or in the office, if you’re like most people, you’re probably found yourself checking your social accounts more often than you would care to admit.
A recent study conducted by the Pew Research showed that the most common reasons why people use social media while at work was to take a mental break and connect with friends and family (15). And although these digital platforms might help to facilitate better connections between employees and resources, it can also become a large distraction if not managed mindfully.
Each time a prompt, message, or update appears on your screen, use this as a reminder to return to the present moment. Take a breath, reconnect with yourself and then return to your work. Resist the urge to abandon your present task and engage with these digital platforms.
To make it easier for yourself to manage your use of social media, set aside designated “digital times” throughout your day. Use this time if you need to take your concentration away from your work and indulge yourself in a mental break.
You might even find that when you’re beginning to feel tired or bored with your work that a quick walk, some stretches or even a breath of fresh air outside reduces your urgency and duration of time spent on your electronic devices.
8. Lunch time
Your mind and body gets tired and tells you so by sending feelings of fatigue, hunger, and boredom. You weren’t designed to sit at a desk for 8 hours straight, and your body certainly isn’t going to be happy if you do!
Relieve yourself of mental and physical fatigue by getting away from your desk. If you’ve been sitting alone at your computer all morning, use this time to connect with your co-workers, go for a walk outside, or simply just change the scenery from your workstation. Take your lunch break, and enjoy it!
If you’re able to step outside, you might just find that the fresh air and sunshine improves your mood. Science has found that bright light exposure, particularly of natural sources helps to raise serotonin levels which helps to balance moods and reduce the risk of depression (16).
Your agenda can and should have some open time. Time to reflect, time to relax, and mostly, time to simply be present. It doesn’t have to be hour-long blocks, but even some short windows are sufficient in helping you become more mindful of the present moment and to enjoy the peace and relaxation that comes with this awareness.
Avoid the urge or staying at your desk and working through what was designed and is intended to be a time of rest from work.
Lunchtime or any other break for that matter, is your time to look after you.
9. Coming back to your desk
Stepping away from your workspace can not only help you unwind and relax from time to time, but can also help improve your productivity and well-being (17).
Every hour to hour and a half, schedule some space away from your current task. Go for a quick walk, step outside for some fresh air, or just practice some breathing exercises wherever you are.
It’s important to routinely take breaks away from your desk to give your mind and body time to rest, relax, and recalibrate.
Each time you come back to your desk, allow this return to trigger mindful being. It doesn’t matter if you left for a few seconds to pick up a paper, or attend a meeting, practice returning to your space with awareness.
Notice how you are feeling. Take some deep breaths, and return to your workspace with a heightened awareness of the present moment. Check in with your emotions, your body and your environment.
10. End of day
Before you even leave the office, it’s good practice to take notice of your day. Acknowledge your successes, stressors, and take care not to over-schedule tomorrow. Notice how you are feeling after your work and be mindful not to carry any negativity with you.
Before you even start on the commute home, take a moment to “be”. Without worrying about what happened today or what will happen tomorrow, shift yourself into simply being mode. Take notice of your surroundings. Notice how your body feels, and the stillness that is available to you right here, right now.
The moment you leave the office you’ll be right back in the hustle and bustle of the evening commute. Indulge yourself in this peaceful moment of calmness by taking one last minute at work to simple do nothing.
Leaving the office angry, frustrated, or stressed has been found to negatively impact home life (18). With the increased usage of digital devices outside of office hours, many people struggle with distancing themselves from work. Psychological detachment from job demands has been found to be integral to a person’s health and recovery from a long day’s work (19).
Your final task of the day is to simply stop doing and start being. Leave work in the office and go home to rest, unwind, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Take away message
Mindful triggers are widely available to you, right now.
Learning to practice mindfulness while in the office can help you manage negative work effects such as stress. It can also help improve your productivity, well-being, and home life.
With awareness and patience, you can easily transform your office into a place of mindful practice.
Are there any triggers you’ve found useful in your work environment?
Let us know so that others can benefit too!