Most people would agree that stress, tiredness and feeling overworked are on the rise, especially when it comes to the workplace. In the UK alone, a 2016-17 study by the Health and Safety Executive revealed that over 500,000 British workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, resulting in the loss of 12.5 million working days.
Whether you’re the CEO of a multinational company, a small business owner juggling several proverbial balls, or a freelancer wondering where your next project will come from, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your mental health and wellbeing, particularly at work.
Your to-do lists, deadlines and other pressures might be outside your control, but there are some things you can change to ensure you’re looking after yourself and working to the best of your ability. In this post, we look at some of the things you can improve in your workplace, including a mindful exercise you can practise anytime, anywhere.
How’s your posture?
Whether you sit at a desk to work, lie on your bed, or even walk and move around to do your job, you’ll be spending a huge proportion of your working week in this position. It’s therefore imperative to check your posture to ensure you’re comfortable and aren’t causing any long-term damage to any areas of your body.
If you sit at a computer, make sure your back is well supported. There should be a natural curve towards the lower half of your back. If you tend to slouch your shoulders forward, try wedging a cushion in your lower back to help you sit up straight, or buy a portable back support, like the McKenzie D Shaped Lumbar Roll.
Your screen should be at eye level so that you’re not craning your neck up or tilting your chin down to comfortably see the screen. If you need to raise your screen, try placing it on a pile of books, or invest in a laptop riser. Nexstand makes a lightweight, portable, adjustable one that comes highly recommended by our Content Queen Hannah.
Whatever posture you adopt for work, listen to your body. Aches, pains and niggles are your body’s way of telling you that something’s not right. Try making a few changes if you can, and your body will thank you for it.
Food for thought
Do you take time to eat a decent meal at work? Or do you usually grab and go? Or wolf something down at your desk?
It’s important to make sure you’re well nourished during your working day, otherwise you run the risk of feeling weak, sluggish and probably unproductive. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a 3-square-meal type of person or a little-and-often grazer. What matters is that you’re putting food in your body that’s right for you.
As a general rule, a lot of refined carbs at lunchtime will make you feel very full, heavy and sluggish and you’ll probably experience the dreaded afternoon slump. So, you might want to avoid huge plates of pasta, jacket potatoes, chips or a doorstep sandwich. A lean source of protein (organic white meat or fish, cheese, beans, pulses, houmous, tofu, eggs, nuts or seeds) plus vegetables is usually a safe bet, if possible.
As always, listen to your body and do what feels right for you. Perhaps test out different foods and track how they make you feel and how this potentially affects your work, then start to make small changes to improve your diet at work.
The art of communication
How do you tend to communicate with your clients and colleagues? Are you always professional and respectful, or do you sometimes find yourself being short with them, snapping, or even getting angry?
Mindfulness isn’t only about noticing the present moment. It’s also about noticing how we relate to others, how we react in certain situations, and becoming more aware of the way we are in the world generally.
When it comes to communication in the workplace, can we find a bit more compassion towards others? If we’re able to centre ourselves, stop and breathe before we speak, we might find we can respond to our boss, speak up in the meeting, reassure our clients and even send out emails with more awareness and clarity.
Gimme a break!
Are you taking enough breaks during your working day? It’s really important, especially if you have a stressful job, are doing a difficult task, or feel yourself getting tired and cranky, that you give yourself the space you need.
Take 5 minutes to get up and move around or go for a walk around the block. Even if you’re working on something urgent, or feel like you can’t stop until a certain task is finished, it’s important to look after yourself. The world won’t end simply because you pause for 5 minutes!
If you’re feeling very stressed or overwhelmed at work, what can you do to lessen the load? Can you re-prioritise your to-do list? Are there any tasks that could actually wait for a day or 2? Do you have someone you can delegate some tasks to? Or a peer or colleague you could call on for help? If you have a manager, can you ask to speak to them to explain how you’re feeling? Take a moment to think about the steps you could take to lessen the pressure so that you can be more productive in the long-run.
If you look at a screen all day, even looking away into the distance for a few seconds every hour is said to help reduce eyestrain. Again, listen to your body. Do your eyes feel tired? Are you getting headaches? Do your shoulders feel sore? Take regular breaks to move your body and rest your mind (within reason of course; we don’t want to get you fired!)
Oh, and remember to breathe. If you can close your eyes and breathe deeply 3 times, focusing on the breath as it moves in and out of your body, this will help to ground and centre you in present moment awareness. Even if you need to go to the bathroom to do this, we highly recommend it!
Mindfulness can be a wonderfully transformative tool for bringing more awareness, clarity and compassion into your life. There are many mindful exercises you can practise on a daily basis, and some of these can even be practised discreetly at work. Our Content Queen Hannah explores some of these practices in her book The Practice of Mindful Yoga: A Connected Path to Awareness.
One of these practices ‘Awakening the senses’ is ideal for the workplace, as it only takes a few minutes and can be practised anytime, anywhere.
Awakening the senses
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, pause for a moment, take a deep calming breath, and follow these mindful steps:
- Notice 5 things you can see. Take a moment to really take in each object. It might be something you see every day, but you might never have truly ‘seen’ it. Notice the quality of each object: form, texture, colour, etc. You don’t even need to label what you’re seeing; simply notice.
- Now close your eyes if you can and notice 5 things you can hear. There might be sounds outside, like people or traffic. Or sounds within the same room, such as voices, music or a machine humming. Or perhaps you can hear more internal sounds, such as your own breath or some gurgling noises inside you. Closing your eyes will help you tune into these sounds more easily.
- Keeping your eyes closed, notice 5 things you can feel. This could be the chair you’re sitting on or the ground beneath your feet. Perhaps you can feel the fabric against different areas of your body. Or your breath as it passes through your nostrils and across your upper lip. You might identify some areas of tension or even the emotions you’re feeling, such as anxious, worried, happy, content or excited.
- Now, slowly open your eyes and check in with yourself. How are you feeling?
This exercise should help you connect with your senses, bring you back into your body and ground you in present moment awareness. Try it anytime you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or need to take a break.
Hannah Moss has studied various approaches to mindfulness and meditation, including a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in India. She practices mindfulness in her everyday life and is passionate about the benefits of mindful yoga. In June 2019 she had an article published in Yoga Magazine, sharing her journey into mindful yoga, and promoting her book.
If you’d like to learn more mindful exercises that can be practised both at home and at work, you might like to buy a copy of Hannah’s book The Practice of Mindful Yoga: A Connected Path to Awareness.
As well as introducing both yoga and mindfulness, Hannah explores how the breath becomes the bridge between these 2 practices. She invites the reader to join her on an inspiring journey of self-discovery and conscious awareness to help both beginners and experienced practitioners live a more mindful life both on and off the mat.