Work-life Balance: An Exercise in Mindfulness
by Colleen Russo, Talent Development Program Manager
Work, family, social life, finances, health, education…. What do these six words have in common? STRESS.
In one way or another, each of us is impacted by stress in some area of life. When we are thriving in one way, we are undoubtedly floundering somewhere else. It is only on rare occasions that we experience complete equilibrium in all aspects of our lives; and when we do, it’s usually quite fleeting.
The universe likes to sneak up on us sometimes: throwing an unexpected curveball our direction. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes! … So how do we overcome life stressors and learn to thrive despite the pressure? We change the way in which we choose to respond to stress by adopting effective coping strategies.
Mindfulness and Workplace Stress
Amongst those strategies, mindfulness, or moment-to-moment awareness, happens to be one of the simplest, most effective tools for getting stress under control right from our desks. If we can reduce workplace stress, we can do our jobs with better attitudes and maintain a high level of performance even when we may be experiencing challenges outside the office. Hansens‘ research supporting mindfulness as a coping strategy is abundant,
“Toxic emotions disrupt the workplace, and mindfulness increases your awareness of these destructive patterns, helping you recognize them before they run rampant. It’s a way of reprogramming your mind to think in healthier, less stressful ways”.
Recently, I’ve been experiencing stress on various fronts all at once. More than ever before, I’ve noticed the impact it can have on your mind and body–I am just completely drained. When everything seems to blow up at once, I don’t feel like myself. Mindfulness isn’t a tool I utilize often enough during times of duress, but research proves that “By settling into your body and noticing how it feels, you center yourself in the moment you’re living, too” (Hansen). It’s about being fully present, anchoring yourself to the moment you are in, and clearing your mind of disruptive thoughts or distractions, if only for a little while.
Those interested in mindfulness as a tool for stress management may want to try the following exercise from Forbes. It is designed in such a way that you can go through it in ten minutes or less, no matter where you are:
“Below are instructions for a simple but powerful meditation to dramatically reduce stress in your body and mind. To time yourself, simply use the stopwatch app built into your phone! I would suggest not setting an alarm in case you have a deep moment right at the time when the alarm is set to ring. Instead, casually glance down at the stopwatch to mind the time. Sit with your back straight, feet flat on the floor or cross-legged, and point the top of your head towards the sky or ceiling.
Close your eyes and let’s begin:
- Focus your attention, your entire mind, on the sensation of the breath as it comes in and out of your nostrils.
- How do you feel?
- What do you notice?
- What sensations come up as your place your mind on the sensation of the breath?
- Do you feel cold sensations? Warm sensations? Does your inhale feel different from the exhale? Notice all of the sensations that come up. Does it feel tingly? Anything else? Study the sensations of your breath, what it feels like as it comes in and out of your nostrils, as closely as you’ve examined anything in your life.
- When a thought comes up, which will happen, smile to yourself. It’s mindfulness to notice you’ve had a thought! This is a great sign.
- Then gently return your attention back to the sensations of the breath.
- As you do this, even if you think your mind is full of thoughts, the meditation is working. You’re releasing stress. Much of the benefit of this meditation is in the return, so don’t be hard on yourself if you keep noticing thoughts. Just smile, watch the thought float away like a cloud, and bring your attention back to the breath.
- If you do this meditation each day, you’ll start to notice it becomes easier to focus on the sensations of the breath. That’s great, and it means you’ll start to find it easier to focus on things throughout the day.
- After ten minutes, or however much time you have, stretch your arms up, stretch your legs out and when you’re ready, gently blink your eyes open. Congrats, you just did a beautiful, powerful mindfulness meditation that has dramatically relaxed you so you can make better decisions for the rest of the day. Enjoy that feeling!
You may want to start doing this meditation for two minutes a day. You can then gradually move up to ten minutes a day. If you can sit for even twenty minutes, you’ll notice a dramatic difference in your day, in how you respond to people and how you feel, too. But every minute counts, so don’t be hard on yourself if you do less. The most important thing is to be consistent. Enjoy the benefits and have a great, mindful, stress-free day!”