We have all been there, sitting frozen like a deer in headlights, not knowing what to do next. Your boss is calling, the emails in your inbox are piling up, your phone keeps buzzing with notifications, and your friends and family are texting, wondering if you are still alive. You are working so hard trying to do it all, you feel like getting in bed and pulling the covers over your head. You think to yourself, how did I get here?
Social media, technological advancements, and continuous access to the internet mean that we are connected at all times, making a work/life balance increasingly more challenging. We end up in a competition to prove our worth as an employee by how many hours we put in and how fast we respond when we aren’t in the office. It can feel like success is measured by endurance or exhaustion, or how much we are willing to sacrifice, rather than the quality of the work we do. In todays society, people wear burnout like it’s a badge of honor.
I thought when I stopped climbing the for-profit corporate ladder and landed my dream job working for my favorite charity, everything would be so much easier. But that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. My passion for the organization, and the importance of the work, kept me from seeing how truly out-of-balance my life had become. My happiness was so low on my list of priorities that I started to resent a career I loved. The simple fact is, no matter what you do for a living, being available to your job 24/7 isn’t healthy, and it will catch up with you in the end.
“Data shows when people go to work before they fully recharge, and their immune system is suppressed, they are more likely to get sick and make bad decisions. They’re not as creative or productive, not as empathetic, not as good colleagues and so forth. It’s like an athlete taking a break after a big game.” – Arianna Huffington
Research has shown that an unreasonable workload and too much time spent working after hours actually decreases productivity and causes work performance to drop. To prevent employee burnout, companies like Google, Twitter, and Thrive Global are focused on creating wellness and flexibility programs that allow employees to take time off and stay healthy. Unfortunately, most people still work for businesses that don’t understand the grave consequences of overextending their employees and the resulting effects. So, knowing how to manage pressure at work is essential to our wellbeing, and the key is to develop mindset practices that are easy to remember and work for you.
Mindfulness is one of the best tools we have at our disposal, but a lot of people brush the idea off because they think it’s some “woo-woo” religious or spiritual practice. Mindfulness is merely being aware of your mind, body, and feelings in the present moment, which in turn helps you remain calm no matter what is happening around you.
It doesn’t matter what your age is or what your professional title may be, practicing mindfulness benefits students, Fortune 500 CEOs, and everyone in-between. It has been proven so effective that it is being incorporated into psychotherapy, addiction treatment, education, corporate leadership, sports, and even politics. We all know the importance of keeping our bodies fit and healthy. We should pay the same attention to the health of our minds as well.
Here are a few mindful techniques that can help calm you when you are stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
This might feel unviable at first, but driving is the perfect time for practicing mindfulness and awareness. We often spend the better part of each trip oscillating between being on autopilot, random streams of consciousness, or being overcome by stresses and anxieties about the day, or even panic because we are in a hurry and everyone else seems to be in the way.
We use the drive to ruminate about the past or worry about the future when we could use that precious time to prepare mentally for the workday ahead, or relax our mind on our way home.
The next time you are at a red light, stop and take three deep breaths. Use these mandatory pauses as a cue to return to the present moment. Try not to succumb to routine and make an effort to be conscious on your commute by taking the time to notice the trees, sky, and architecture. Or try taking a different route altogether. Enjoy a nice audiobook or podcast. When you are moving at a snail’s pace, let your mind do the same!
If you start feeling overwhelmed and your mind is in a constant loop thinking about all the things on your to-do list, particularly when you are in the middle of something important, try stopping and remind yourself to Be Here Now. It will bring you back to the present moment and help you regain your focus. This mantra by former Harvard professor and spiritual leader, Ram Dass, was a go-to for Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
As humans, we tend to make things much more significant in our minds than they are. There are countless effective mantras that you can alter and adapt to suit your personal needs, and should you need one for stilling your perspective, try:
Relax, Relax, Relax.
Breathe, Breathe, Breathe.
This isn’t as important as I think it is.
Repeat this three to five times, and you will be amazed at how much better you feel.
Author and coach Brendan Burchard says we should use transitions, or those in-between moments in life, to reduce tension throughout our days.
When we have breakfast, get in the car, walk into work, sit at our desks, or go to a meeting, we have the perfect opportunity to check in with our bodies. He suggests using these transitions as a prompt to relax our jaw and shoulders, shake out our hands, and take in a few deep breaths.
By turning these interval periods into opportunities for mindfulness, you will feel more relaxed and ultimately more productive, no matter how chaotic your day may get.
Five Senses Meditation – Getting Grounded
When you get to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed – STOP! Take three deep breaths and check-in with each of your five senses. What do you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste?
LOOK: Keep an eye out for things you see and list them internally. For example, you could say, “I see the computer; I see the cup; I see the picture frame.” Or you can carefully note the colors and shapes around you.
FEEL: Pay attention to your body and notice how you feel. For example, feel your feet pressed to the floor or the texture of the pen in your hand. You can touch other materials and trinkets on your desk as well. If you are outside, feel the breeze in your hair and the heat from the sun on your face.
LISTEN: Let your ears absorb all those sounds around you. It could be the buzz of traffic outside your window, or someone talking; perhaps the subtle sounds you didn’t hear when you weren’t listening, like the soft humming from your computer.
SMELL: Now shift your concentration to noticing the smells of your environment. Is somebody cooking nearby? Can you smell fresh air drifting through an open window? Do you smell cologne or perfume? If you pay attention, you may be amazed at all those discreet scents you have been failing to notice.
TASTE: What do you savor at that moment? It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth or mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then try to recall the flavor of something familiar, such as your favorite food(s).
By the time you have checked in with your five senses, you will be back in the present moment in a more peaceful and controlled state of mind.
No matter how good you are at being mindful, failure to establish reasonable boundaries with your employer can lead to burning out. It is essential that you disconnect from work and allow yourself time to reenergize and enjoy your life. The concept of working reasonable hours doesn’t have to be a thing of the past.
It may be difficult depending on the sort of job you do, but if you have a work phone or work computer, switch it off when you are out-of-hours and at home. Commit to not scrolling through work emails when you should be engaged in family time or having time to yourself. Make it clear to colleagues that your home life is just that. If you happen to work in the same industry as your significant other, then avoid work pillow talk. It’s is easy for everyone to bring the stresses of their daily jobs into their home environment – you have to set boundaries and stick to them.
And be clear with your employer about your workload and any issues within the workplace. You will feel better not only for the transparency of your feelings but also for the support that you should receive.
Consider the advice given on an airplane safety talk – “put your own mask on first before helping others”– in other words, you need to honor your own needs as a priority, and then you’ll be better placed to help others and thrive as a human.
Being mindful and having healthy boundaries not only benefits your wellbeing and productivity, but it also makes you be a better employee, boss, friend, parent, and partner. Remember to allow yourself time to recover, recharge, and refuel and that…
Self-care doesn’t mean being self-ish – it means self-love.