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Stress-Proof Your Day With Mindfulness

Originally published in the Trinidad and Tobago Express Newspapers - April 7th, 2022

Life May Be Stressful, But That Doesn’t Mean We Have To Live Stressed Out. Mindfulness Can Help.

Having its roots in ancient eastern traditions, modern-day mindfulness is a secular, non-religious practice that can be defined as the awareness that comes through paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment – with an attitude of openness, friendliness, and curiosity. Sometimes referred to as “living in the moment”, it’s the basic human ability that we all have to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Often called “brain-training”, it actually takes quite a bit of skill to pay attention to the present moment on purpose amid the near-constant inflow of stimuli and information we face daily. And while it may be a simple practice, 30+ years of neuroscientific research shows that it can have a big impact on our mental and physical health by reducing the impact of chronic stress on the mind and body. Mindfulness practice also enhances our resilience, concentration, and emotional intelligence skills, so it’s no wonder then that this once considered “alternative practice” is increasingly finding its way into many high-performing Fortune 500 companies like Google, General Mills, Microsoft, EY, Nike, and Goldman Sachs, permeating their employee training and wellness culture. The Harvard Business Review calls it the new “crucial soft-skill in business.”

Being Mindful @Work

When your workday is filled with meetings, emails, presentations, and phone calls - all on top of your normal workload - it may seem impossible to find time to be mindful at work. Fortunately, practicing mindfulness at work does not require special props or massive amounts of time. While mindfulness meditation is the most reliable way to build our capacity to be mindful, with a little skill and know-how, it can be easy to find opportunities to reduce the effects of stress and nurture your wellbeing with informal mindfulness practices sprinkled throughout a busy workday. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Start your day with intention

Starting your day with intention can work wonders in setting a more mindful tone for your workplace interactions over the next 8 hours. Before you start your workday, take some time to reflect on what attitudes you’d like to embody, and how you’d like to be experienced by your colleagues and customers. See if you can distill this intention down to a word or two. For example, you may want to set an intention to be “Present” or “Calm” or “Patient” or “Focused” or “Kind”. Take a few moments to really think about your intention – getting a sense of what it might look like and feel like for you. Keep bringing your intention to mind as you go about your day.

2. Take a breathing break

You may not always have time for a 20-minute meditation during the day, but a 3-minute breathing break between meetings can be just the thing to help you re-center, re-focus, and de-stress. Set the timer on your phone, close your eyes or lower your gaze, and notice how it feels in your body as you breathe in, and out. Taking it one breath at a time, feeling each inhalation and exhalation as fully as you can. Whenever your attention strays from the sensations of the breath in your body (which it will many, many, times) kindly and gently guide it back to your breathing. You might be surprised at how refreshed you feel afterward.

3. Practice single-tasking

Studies show that frantically switching from task to task actually limits productivity and increases stress. The brain literally cannot do two things at once, so while you may feel like a multi-tasking maven, it’s likely that something is slipping through the cracks - whether it’s attention to detail or your overall sense of wellbeing. As far as it is reasonable to do, try switching off distractions and give yourself permission to focus on just one thing. If you feel yourself wandering off to another task, or reaching for your phone to check the latest social media updates, that’s ok - just breathe, re-center, and come back to that one focused task at hand.

Research shows that consistent mindfulness practice can help cultivate positive mind states such as kindness and compassion toward yourself and others, and improve focus, attention, and concentration - both on and off the job. Like with any skill, practice is key if you want to reap the benefits, but with a little practice, you'll find it's easy to weave in some moments of calm, presence, and mindfulness throughout your workday.

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