“There is so much to do!” “Work is crazy this week!” “I barely have time to breathe.” We hear these phrases all too often . These days most everyone seems to be busy, tired, and running around all the time. And while it is truly wonderful that unemployment rates have been decreasing over the past few years, workplace stress has not.
Earlier this year, a study conducted by Nielson for Everest College found that 8 out of every 10 American workers are stressed out at work. This number has not changed much over recent years. Although we are no longer in a recession, many people have long commutes, heavy workloads, work long hours, or must deal with unpleasant coworkers, managers, and office politics. While there are many factors beyond our control (we cannot force our manager to hire an additional worker when shortstaffed, nor can we travel 35 miles in a few minutes), there are a number of things we can do to be less stressed and more focused at work. Here are a few techniques to help you recenter:
Pay attention to distractions. This may sound counter-intuitive, however acknowledging our distractions can lessen their effect. When your email notifications keep pinging, the man across the floor won’t stop whistling, the new intern keeps running around, or the lady across from you just won’t stop coughing, it is incredibly difficult to stay focused. Unfortunately, most of these interruptions are beyond our control. What we can control is how we perceive and respond to them. Rather than fighting these interruptions, try to be mindful of them. Simply observe them without judging, and observe how your body reacts. Acknowledge that they are around you, but remember that they only affect you as much as you let them. This awareness can take away a great deal of their power. When we stop worrying about distractions and their effects on our productivity, we are free to use the energy otherwise spent complaining or worrying to improve our work instead.
Take breaks. Humans are not machines. We cannot function at an optimal level for 8 hours straight. What we can do is recognize that we are human and need to recharge our minds and bodies every so often to increase our productivity (and well-being). When psiible, leave your desk and go outside for a short walk. If this is not an option, take a short “breathing break”. Remove yourself from your work area (this could mean finding an empty meeting room, or even minimizing all of your work-related tabs on the computer), close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. Focus on your breathing and nothing else. Allow your mind to refresh itself and recharge. Taking a mental break has shown to increase creativity as well. Sometimes we need some distance from problems to come back and see them from a new perspective.
Examine your reactions. Our perceptions of situations shape our reactions to them. For example, if you find yourself becoming angry with a coworker, step back and examine the situation. What is making you angry? If a coworker’s approach to a project is different or seemingly slower, it is easy to become frustrated. Or, if they take credit for a project you were working on together, you will no doubt become upset. Before reacting, investigate the situation (is their approach possibly beneficial in any way? Perhaps different is not always inferior. Did the coworker merely forget to mention your name due to nerves or did they intentionally claim recognition for your work?). Make sure you know what is actually going on (not just the story your mind automatically concocts) before responding in a particular way. This can prevent actions and words you may later regret.
Unplug. We are constantly plugged in to our computers, phones, and other devices. In the past, once we left the office, we left the office. When we left a party, we actually left the party. Now, our work emails reach us no matter where we are, and people we just met can contact us minutes after we left them (whether we exchanged numbers or not). While this can be a great thing, it causes us to always be “on”. Studies have shown that this constant state of being “on” (being bombarded with information, multitasking every minute of the day, etc) has led to shorter attention spans, more impatience, lack of focus, and eventually evn burnout. As mentioned earlier, people need time to recharge. So take some extra time (even if this means 15 minutes a day) to silence your devices and step away from them. Do not check the screen! Take a walk, read a book, pay attention to and really appreciate your surroundings.
While all of these tips highlight the value of stepping away from the situation, it is equally important to know when to step in. Being able to accept factors beyond our control is key to a peaceful existence. However, take care not to accept everything blindly. When something is bothering us, we can often take actions to improve the circumstances. It may not be possible to change a coworker’s manner of speaking, however it is possible to address their disrespectful tendencies. If, for example, a peer is constantly talking down to you, it may be necessary to address the issue with them directly (tactfully, of course). The key is finding the balance between stepping away from the situation to calm down and gain perspective and knowing when to step in. Certain situations require that we analyze more and work through the challenges. If we step away at this point, it may only make matters worse. Mindfulness should enhance rational/logical thought, not cause us to move away from it. There is no formula for knowing when to retreat to mindfulness and when to dive in to the situation at hand. Be observant of your behavior, use common sense, and you will soon understand how to find that balance.
Although all jobs will be stressful at times (that is simply the reality of things), they do not need to be stressful all of the time. By utilizing mindfulness at work and being proactive when necessary, much of the daily stress and negativity we face can be eliminated. So let’s take a deep inhale, breathe out the stresses of yesterday, and make the best of today!
For more on mindfulness and staying grounded, click here.
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