The Pause that Refreshes the Mind
It’s no secret that our jobs and our lives are stressful, and the holiday season multiples this. Nearly eight out of 10 employees in America regularly experience physical symptoms of stress at work, which they carry home with them and can have negative effects on our health and relationships, including high blood pressure and depression.
One way to mitigate stress and enhance physical and mental health is through mindfulness: the secular, science-based practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Recent studies highlight the benefits of mindfulness for reducing stress and anxiety levels, encouraging positive emotions and bolstering social connections and emotional intelligence—all of which we need when trying to cope with the work week and holiday busyness.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, here are some simple ways to use mindfulness to pause and reset.
Breathe. We may not have time to sit for a 10-minute mindfulness meditation, but we always have time to take a deep breath or two. When we are stressed or distracted, we tend to take shallow, hurried breaths. The next time we notice ourselves getting frazzled, breathe deeply into and out of the lower abdomen. Breathing in this way massages your vagus nerve, which calms the central nervous system, and takes us out of “fight-or-flight” mode.
Move. Sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day can make it easy to forget that the mind and body are connected. Stay aware of your body by moving once per hour. Get up and stretch at the desk or add a few extra steps to the walk to the restroom. Perhaps a coworker is even open to having a walking meeting.
Practice single-tasking. While far from commonplace in the digital age, dedicating all our focus to one task at a time is actually the most efficient mode for the brain. Even if we can only prioritize single-tasking for 30 to 60 minutes, we can use that time to focus all our brainpower on our top priority task.
Listen. When we are stressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to forget that our lives are made up of moments. Connections with those around us are what make these moments memorable. We can always take a moment to ask a coworker, friend or family member how they are doing and listen wholeheartedly to their response. To stay present while in conversation, practice maintaining awareness of our own body and breath as we listen. Listen with open, engaged body language and attempt to understand our conversation partner, rather than to fix their problem or share our own agenda. Mindful listening can transform relationships and bring more meaning to life.
Practice gratitude. Practice being extra aware of the good things in life by pausing to be grateful during the day, even if it’s something as small as a coworker that made us laugh or a nice cup of coffee or tea. A positive attitude will enhance productivity and keep our stress levels down.
STOP. When we notice being stressed or frantic, that is actually a moment of mindful awareness. Instead of fighting against stress or strong emotions, stop and take a mindful pause: take a few deep breaths; observe our experience (thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations); and proceed with something that will support us in this moment.
Bringing mindfulness to our life and work is a lifelong journey. Research studies show that even one mindfulness meditation or mindful pause can lower our stress levels and boost mood. Start incorporating these mindfulness tips into our day for enhanced productivity and overall well-being.
Dorsey Standish is the chief mindfulness officer at Mastermind Meditate, in Dallas. Her teachings combine neuroscience research with her experiences in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and silent meditation retreats. For more information about Mastermind applied mindfulness trainings, visit MastermindMeditate.com/programs.