During stressful periods at work, it can be hard to be more than just reactive. Using a technique called mindfulness can make a big difference, says Jackie Hawken
“Wherever you go, there you are” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
The in-box of life never empties. Finding a real work-life balance is about making proactive choices, instead of reacting to external events. It is important to find a way to slow down and consider your options. Do not allow adrenaline and cortisol – both of which have a detrimental impact on our bodies – to become your drugs of choice.
Stress arises when the pressures placed upon you exceed your perceived capacity to cope. It is something that we all experience with the many demands and responsibilities of home and work. Stress can be defined as an intense emotional and physiological reaction to a situation or the mental representation of a situation as a memory or anticipation.
The sustained physiological effects of chronic stress can have a serious effect on the body and lead to an increased risk of disease. The psychological effects of chronic stress produce fatigue, poor concentration and an impaired ability to perform tasks, which leads to more stress. Chronic stress also reduces our listening and communication skills and the quality of our different relationships.
Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation, and mindfulness is possible practically all the time: it does not always require sitting or necessarily focusing on the breath (although this can be useful – see later), but rather simply realizing what is happening in the present moment, including noticing the mind's usual "commentary". We can be mindful of the sensations in our bodies while walking and become aware “now I am putting down my right foot, now my left”.
It is important to be mindful of the mind's commentary: "I wish I didn't have to do this task, I would rather be somewhere else...”. etc. Once we identify our experience as mental content, we can chose to stop identifying with our perceptions and judgments.
Mindfulness is a proven way to look after ourselves. It is an integral part of Buddhist meditation practices but does not require converting to Buddhism. How we relate to our emotions is important: if we investigate anger with mindfulness, we begin to see that a mixture of feelings, images, memories and sensations creates an emotion: for example we can see that anger can be broken down into feelings of sadness, emptiness and fear.
Mindfulness is moment-by-moment awareness, a skill that teaches us to be less reactive to the experiences of our life and a practice that creates intentional awareness in the present moment.
In the business environment, the most common reason why people begin a meditation practice is related to the need to calm down and organise a space and time of stillness. Mindfulness is a skill that teaches us to be less reactive, to create ‘intentional awareness’ and to pay attention to our lives.
We can practice mindfulness when we walk, eat, experience our emotions and meditate, and in the following ways at work:
Know what you want to communicate, anticipate the other person’s reaction to your message. Be aware that there are many different ways of asking questions (open, closed, funnel, probing, leading, and rhetorical). Listen actively and allow other people to speak, without interrupting. Build rapport by using polite, positive and persuasive language and by using the word ‘and’ rather than ‘but’ and ‘do remember’ rather than ‘don’t forget’. Words are energy and they can heal or wound yourself and others. Each of us can transform our lives when we learn to speak mindfully – to be aware of what is coming out of our mouths, rather than just say the first thing that comes into our head
Your breath is your anchor. When we live our hurried lives we breath shallow and quickly. When we rush, we don’t breathe deeply into our lungs and fill them with air. We must have oxygen to feed our brain, our vital organs and our body. Shallow breathing can lead to stressful states. Learn to become mindful of your breath by using the ‘mindful 3 breaths’: breathe in and out three times, concentrating only on your breathing and nothing else. This takes less than half a minute and can be used at any time, whether sat in your office, behind the wheel of your car or walking at lunchtimes.
Follow this link for instructions on a short meditation practice:
Jackie Hawken runs Equanalta, which provides coaching and workshops for lawyers and staff working in local government. See www.equanalta.co.uk