How to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Work Day

Unless you’re a teacher of meditation, yoga, or another similar practice, chances are your work environment is anything but mindful. Even if you’ve landed the job of your dreams—and you truly love what you do—it’s tough to be mindful when phone calls, emails, urgent crises, and inevitable interruptions pull you off center almost constantly. Sometimes it can feel like there isn’t even time to take a full breath on the job.

Mindfulness means showing up fully in the present moment in a non-judgemental way, rather than concerning yourself with what’s already happened or what might happen in the future. It’s a peaceful, timeless, precious state—and when you bring it into your workday routine, it can lead to untold benefits to you, your coworkers, and even your employer! Formal meditation can get you there, but it’s not the only option.

There are lots of different ways to develop mindfulness at work, and there’s sure to be at least one that clicks with your unique personality.

Why Practice Mindfulness Exercises at Work?

Meditation and other mindfulness practices are incredibly beneficial—lowering stress, boosting overall health, and even physically changing the brain for the better! Long term practice leads to improved neural connections and increased gray matter in areas associated with memory, learning, self-awareness, and compassion—while it trims back regions associated with worry, stress, and fear.1,2,3,4 As if that wasn’t enough reason to try, mindfulness practices also protect your gut from the kind of long-term stress that could otherwise be damaging to your microbiome.5,6

This is all great news, but you may be wondering what it all has to do with your job. Actually, the connection is huge. The latest science reveals that mindfulness in the workplace produces some very tangible gains for everyone involved:

1. After participating in a 16-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training program, participating executives employed at a large oil company experienced better sleep, lower cortisol levels, healthier blood pressure, improved health habits, and more self-compassion.7

2. A palliative care team participating in a 10-week mindfulness training experienced lowered stress, burnout, rumination, and anxiety while improving interpersonal skills and increasing feelings of joy at work.8

3. A 10-week on-the-job yoga program resulted in reduced employee aggression and unproductive behavior, as well as fewer reported negative emotions when compared with a control group.9

3. Workplace mindfulness was found to improve employee dedication, vigor, and absorption at work, with a possible reduction in turnover intention.10

4. Numerous studies link mindfulness practice with improved work performance across multiple areas, including better concentration and memory, reduced stress while multitasking, and improved job performance in the area of work related tasks and safety.11,12,13,14,15

5. Mindfulness is even associated with enhanced creative insight for problem solving, both on and off the job.16,17

6. Practicing mindfulness at work can even help us get along better with our coworkers! Recent research reveals a link between mindfulness practice and improved work relationships, cooperation, compassion, and resilience when faced with challenges.18,19,20

Group Workplace Mindfulness Strategies

With all the clear benefits mindfulness on the job offers, the more the merrier! When all your colleagues opt in, the entire workplace transforms almost magically into a calmer, more focused, and more cooperative space—which makes things way nicer for everyone!

This is why approaching employee mindfulness collectively has the potential for most widespread gains. You might want to ask your employer if he or she would be open to bringing in a professional mindfulness instructor to lead a series of short sessions during the workday so everyone you work with gets the opportunity to de-stress and recenter through practices such as:

• Meditation: Techniques may include chanting or silent mantra repetition, focusing on the breath, lovingkindness toward self and others, or tracking thoughts and sensations as they arise and fall away.

• Guided imagery: Kind of a “meditation light”, guided imagery involves following live or recorded verbal suggestions for a relaxing, mindful internal journey.

• Mindful movement: Techniques such as yoga, qigong, and tai chi bring mind and body back to the present moment without having to sit still.

If the idea of a mindfulness workshop doesn’t sit well with your boss, you could still start a group practice with like-minded coworkers during existing shared breaks using meditation, guided imagery recordings, or mindful movement videos instead of a live professional instructor.

In any case, very little equipment is required for mindfulness practice. If you opt for mindful movement, you’ll just need a quiet room with the furniture pushed aside and a yoga mat for each participant, while group meditation or guided imagery can even be done with everyone sitting at their regular desks if additional space is in short supply.

What If No One Else Is on Board?

Group mindfulness is amazing, but if absolutely no one in your workplace wants to give it a shot, you’re not out of luck! Individual mindfulness can still be a powerful on the job tool for maintaining calm, reducing stress, and enhancing your performance and productivity.

For a solo mindfulness journey, meditation at work may be the perfect approach. Since it’s practiced in stillness and silence, it doesn’t disrupt anyone else’s workflow. If you have an understanding supervisor, you may be able to meditate in an unused meeting room or office during your breaks, or at least arrange for a few minutes when you absolutely won’t be interrupted at your desk.

Alternative Mindfulness Methods

Unfortunately, as you may have already discovered, not every supervisor or company is accommodating when it comes to mindfulness during working hours. If you find yourself in this situation, hang in there—you’ve still got some excellent options:

• Mindful eating: To experience mindful eating, take lunch alone somewhere quiet and private, and tune into the colors, smells, textures, and tastes of each bite of food. You can also be present with any other sensations you’re experiencing, such as the temperature of the room, or the firmness or softness of your chair. Be aware of whether you’re truly physically hungry at the beginning of your meal, and of the moment you feel satiated.

• Mindful walking: Go for a mindfulness walk in nature during your lunch break. Try to be aware of your footsteps: the way your weight shifts from the back to the front of each foot, and from one foot to the other as you move forward. Notice all the other sensations you’re experiencing as well. Is the air still, or breezy? Do you hear trees rustling? Birds singing? Cars going by? Feel the sun (or the rain!) on your skin and just be with it all.

• Gratitude: Even if your job doesn’t allow for much reflective time, pause periodically to very briefly notice, acknowledge, and write down things that make you feel happy and grateful during your workday. It could be something huge like landing a major raise—or just the everyday miracle of a coworker’s warm smile or a gentle breeze drifting in through an open window.

• Three mindful breaths: No matter how hectic and stressful your job is, there’s always time somewhere in the day for this shortest of meditations. Close your eyes and simply take three long, slow, mindful breaths. If your thoughts start to wander during this time (and they will!), gently return your focus to your breathing and the inner silence beneath all the surrounding chaos. And if you find no one leaves you alone long enough to complete three mindful breaths without interruption, you owe it to yourself to walk away and find a place where you can claim 20 to 30 seconds of privacy, even if it’s behind the locked door of a restroom stall!

Even though it’s often challenging to squeeze mindfulness practice into an already busy workday, the gifts you’ll receive are well worth the effort. Taking time to embrace the hidden calm that’s always accessible in the present moment will leave you feeling less stressed, more focused, and far less likely to run out of steam when the going gets rough. And the added bonus? You may just find that you’re also beginning to like your job, yourself, and even the most difficult people you work with a whole lot better.

References:

1. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,191(1), 36-43. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006

2. Pagnoni, G., & Cekic, M. (2007). Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiology of Aging,28(10), 1623-1627. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2007.06.008

3. Luders, E., Kurth, F., Mayer, E. A., Toga, A. W., Narr, K. L., & Gaser, C. (2012). The Unique Brain Anatomy of Meditation Practitioners: Alterations in Cortical Gyrification. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,6. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00034

4. Luders, E., Clark, K., Narr, K. L., & Toga, A. W. (2011). Enhanced brain connectivity in long-term meditation practitioners. NeuroImage,57(4), 1308-1316. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.075

5. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Galley, J. D., Hufnagle, A. R., Allen, R. G., & Lyte, M. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(3), 397-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023

6. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Parry, N. M., Galley, J. D., Schauer, D. B., & Lyte, M. (2010). Stressor Exposure Disrupts Commensal Microbial Populations in the Intestines and Leads to Increased Colonization by Citrobacter rodentium. Infection and Immunity, 78(4), 1509-1519. doi:10.1128/iai.00862-09

7. Mulla, Z. R., Govindaraj, K., Polisetti, S. R., George, E., & More, N. R. (2017). Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction for Executives: Results from a Field Experiment. Business Perspectives and Research, 5(2), 113-123. doi:10.1177/2278533717692906

8. Orellana-Rios, C. L., Radbruch, L., Kern, M., Regel, Y. U., Anton, A., Sinclair, S., & Schmidt, S. (2017). Mindfulness and compassion-oriented practices at work reduce distress and enhance self-care of palliative care teams: a mixed-method evaluation of an “on the job“ program. BMC Palliative Care, 17(1). doi:10.1186/s12904-017-0219-7

9. Dwivedi, U., Kumari, S., & Nagendra, H. (2016). Effect of yoga practices in reducing counterproductive work behavior and its predictors. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 58(2), 216. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.183778

10. Dane, E., & Brummel, B. J. (2013). Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations, 67(1), 105-128. doi:10.1177/0018726713487753

11. Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion, 10(1), 54-64. doi:10.1037/a0018438

12. Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014

13. Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Psychological Science, 24(5), 776-781. doi:10.1177/0956797612459659

14. Reb, J., Narayanan, J., & Ho, Z. W. (2013). Mindfulness at Work: Antecedents and Consequences of Employee Awareness and Absent-mindedness. Mindfulness, 6(1), 111-122. doi:10.1007/s12671-013-0236-4

15. Reb, J., Narayanan, J., & Chaturvedi, S. (2012). Leading Mindfully: Two Studies on the Influence of Supervisor Trait Mindfulness on Employee Well-Being and Performance. Mindfulness, 5(1), 36-45. doi:10.1007/s12671-012-0144-z

16. Good, D. J., Lyddy, C. J., Glomb, T. M., Bono, J. E., Brown, K. W., Duffy, M. K., … Lazar, S. W. (2015). Contemplating Mindfulness at Work. Journal of Management, 42(1), 114-142. doi:10.1177/0149206315617003

17. Ostafin, B. D., & Kassman, K. T. (2012). Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition, 21(2), 1031-1036. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2012.02.014

18. Glomb, T. M., Duffy, M. K., Bono, J. E., & Yang, T. (2011). Mindfulness at Work. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 115-157. doi:10.1108/s0742-7301(2011)0000030005

19. Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W. B., & DeSteno, D. (2013). Meditation Increases Compassionate Responses to Suffering. Psychological Science, 24(10), 2125-2127. doi:10.1177/0956797613485603

20. Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical Foundations and Evidence for its Salutary Effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211-237. doi:10.1080/10478400701598298

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Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.

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