Category Archives: Workplace Wellness

Three Days to Less Stress – Meditation Can Help

alarm clocksEverybody is looking for a quick fix to be less stressed.  We try shopping, drinking, distracting ourselves with TV, and even complaining to try to feel better.  However, these strategies are only temporary and often have negative side effects (e.g., financial difficulties, being hung over, being overweight, and feeling more negative).  Let’s face it, there are usually no quick, easy fixes to life’s challenges.

However, now researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have given us some hope.  David Creswell and his research team did a study where they had one group of participants complete a brief mindfulness meditation training program – 25 minutes of meditation for three consecutive days.  The meditation instructed them to monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences.   The comparison group participants were given instructions to enhance their problem-solving skills.  After their training, all participants were compared on stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators in white coats.   The participants who had the meditation training reported less perceived stress than the comparison group, indicating greater psychological resilience—a known indicator of greater physical and psychological well-being and health.

If you would like to try the test for yourself, here is a 30 minute sitting meditation. Use it for three days in a row and notice how you feel.  Pay attention after day three how you react to things that usually create stress for you. If you’d like, share your experience by commenting below.  If you notice it working, you might like to try some other meditations as well. Pretty soon you might be doing something everyday. You will find meditations of varying lengths on the Audio/Video Tab on this website.

Good luck!

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Five Tips for Mindful Emailing

tastingmindfulness-stockimage1Emails in the workplace often come with questions, work to do, goals to reach, and obstacles to overcome. That makes them inherently stressful or anxiety producing. Plus, communication is hard enough when we are face-to-face and email makes it much more challenging. Face-to-face we have the ability to read another person’s intentions and emotions. Over email, we are left guessing what the other person is trying to express. When you read an email that upsets you, it is often because a reaction is being triggered that may not be appropriate to the communication as it was intended.

Knowing this, here are some tips for what to do when you feel triggered emotionally by an email you receive.

1. Use the STOP sign technique before you respond.

S = Stop (do nothing)
T = take a breath (or five breaths or breathe until you’re more relaxed)
O = Observe (What are you feeling and thinking? Is this someone you have reacted to in the past? Is there a pattern of reacting that you can begin to understand better?)
P = Proceed (when you feel calm again, now you can respond if you need to)

2. After you have calmed down, re-read the email in question. Does it say what you thought it did? Or, does it say something slightly different? When I go back and re-read emails I often discover that they were much less of a problem than the first time I read them.

3. Put yourself in the shoes of the person sending the email. What might they be trying to accomplish? Usually someone doesn’t send an email to make you mad and, in fact, the email is often sent with good intentions. Assume good intentions whenever possible.

4. When you’re sending an email, check in with what you intend to convey. Never send an email that you’ve composed when you’re angry. Take a few breaths and wait until you’re calm. You will be much more capable at getting your message across in a way that can be accepted without defensiveness.

5. When possible, pick up the phone and talk or walk down the hall to speak to someone in person. While email is absolutely a necessity in this day and age, there are still times we could take advantage of some old fashioned face time.

The workplace is fast-paced and hectic. No wonder it can be filled with misunderstandings. When we practice slowing down, even a little, we can discover many new things in our communications with others. We can begin to illuminate the ways we get stuck in repetitive patterns and we can begin to understand how others operate so that we don’t take their messages so personally. When we practice mindful emailing, we have an opportunity to help the workplace be a little more friendly and manageable.

 

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Does stress make you overeat at work?

stress_eaterJack is sitting at his desk intently focused on his work. He is getting a little stressed because he has a deadline to meet and he has a lot of other work that is beginning to pile up.  Automatically, his left hand reaches down to the desk drawer that is filled with food in case he gets hungry.   Is Jack really hungry? Or, is he stressed?  Continue reading

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The Pause That Refreshes!

iStock_000002538269LargeThere probably isn’t anything I find more powerful or helpful than a pause.  Stopping and taking a deep breath when you’re stressed, angry, impatient, or frustrated can keep you from (a) saying things that you wished you hadn’t said, (b) sending emails you wished you hadn’t sent, (c) doing things that you wish you hadn’t done, or (d) all of the above.

People call the pause by many different names.  Tara Brach, in her book Radical Acceptance, calls it the “sacred pause.”  Janice Marturano, in her book Finding the Space to Lead, calls it a “purposeful pause.”  The authors of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Depression call it a “three minute breathing space.”  I often call it a “taste of mindfulness.”

Call it what you wish, a pause from your busy lives to check in with how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and how your body feels is all that you might need to avoid any of the behavior above and to help you settle down enough to let your clarity and wisdom arise.  If nothing else, it gives you time to rethink your next move.  It helps you tap into the wisdom of your body so that you take care of it better.  Instead of reactively reaching for a cup of coffee when you’re tired, you might get up and walk, stretch, lie on the floor, take some deep breaths.

A pause can help you re-center into the present moment and really take in what is going on. At work this is particularly helpful.  Perhaps you’re in a meeting but your mind is thinking about something else and you’re not really catching what’s going on.  You miss some of the main points and then you feel pretty timid about asking what you missed. I have put a random mindfulness bell called Lotus Bud on my phone that can go off at any time.  It rings and says “take a breath and be mindful.” When it goes off in a meeting, we all pause and take a breath or two.  It’s amazing how it slows things down (in a good way) and helps people stay more focused on the task at hand.

A pause can be short or long.  Short pauses are particularly good when you feel stressed.  Longer pauses can be taken throughout your day, such as when you are walking to lunch or driving home from work.  Just walk or just drive.  Don’t do anything else.  You’ll be surprised what you might discover.  It is always from the stillness that I have my most interesting, creative ideas.  In fact, when I ask people where they get their best ideas, it is almost always in the middle of a pause.

Think about times when you could use a pause and set an intention to work them into your day.  I’ll bet you’ll amazed at how refreshing they are.

 

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My Advice to People Getting into Mindfulness

bepresentjpgI’ve recently been asked to say, in one sentence, my advice to people getting into mindfulness.  There are so many things I would like to say that parsing it down to one sentence seemed like quite a challenge.  To help me and (hopefully) you in the process, I will share the advice that I’ve been given and have given to others over the years and maybe I’ll come up with one sentence in the end.  Let’s see what happens…

“Just Do It” – This is one of the first and best pieces of advice I ever received.  No, it wasn’t advice from Nike, but from Jon Kabat-Zinn and I’m sure he’s shared it with thousands of people around the world.  This advice has served me well and has gotten my butt on the cushion to sit in meditation on innumerable mornings.  You see, my mind never tells me that this morning is a great morning to get up a half an hour early to do my mindfulness practice.  But, I “just do it” anyway.

“Make space for formal practice” – When I say “space” I mean create an actual physical space where you do formal practice (e.g. a particular chair, room, place at work), but I also mean “space” in terms of setting aside the time for practice.  It helps if you write it down on your calendar or set your alarm.  You can even start with just a few minutes a day and it will make a difference.   Try even a couple of minutes during the work day and notice how you feel.

“Relax” – There is really nothing to do.  Mindfulness is an un-doing of all the things we think we are and how things are supposed to be.  Relax into the present moment with openness and curiosity.  One meditation teacher said “stop seeking peace and happiness and peace and happiness are here.”  Take a deep breath, relax, and see if you can sense the truth of that statement.

“Don’t give up” – Mindfulness practice is simple but not easy.  You keep coming back to the present with kindness over and over again.  Eventually you begin to get better at noticing when you aren’t present, and you stay in the present more often.

“Be gentle with yourself” – One of my favorite ways of describing mindfulness is “affectionate attention.”  You are gentle and kind with yourself, with others, and with your experiences.  We are such perfectionists in this culture.  Instead “try a little tenderness” as Otis Redding would say!

“Find a community or support group to practice with” – There is a great power and energy in practicing mindfulness with others.  We support and learn from one another in community and hold each other more accountable.

“Realize that everything is practice” – What this means is that you can bring your mindfulness to anything and make it a meditation.  In fact, your entire life can be a meditation.  You pay attention to all of your senses with kindness and curiosity.  You can do that anywhere and anytime.

So, I can’t really sum all of that up in one sentence, but if I only have one this is what I’d say.  “ Taste a little bit of mindfulness every day, even if it is one mindful breath, and do it with kindness.”                                    

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Happy at Work?

rec-man-juggling-work-10-13-11-md[1]Do you feel like you’re juggling more balls than you can keep in the air?  Are you becoming increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, and restless?  Are you having difficulty keeping up with your work?  If so, you may be experiencing what most working people have at some time or the other.  It’s called Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) and you’re not born with it.  It’s a “workplace-induced attention deficit caused by the constant, relentless input of information.”

Edward Hallowell, the psychiatrist who identified ADT identifies the symptoms as follows: “When people find that they’re not working to their full potential; when they know that they could be producing more but in fact they’re producing less; when they know they’re smarter than their output shows; when they start answering questions in ways that are more superficial, more hurried than they usually would; when their reservoir of new ideas starts to run dry; when they find themselves working ever-longer hours and sleeping less, exercising less, spending free time with friends less and in general putting in more hours but getting less production overall.”

If those symptoms sound familiar, now is a good time to take a deep breath.  In fact, breathing and being aware of your breath and your body can be the first step in overcoming ADT.  “Most people don’t realize that there is a reciprocal relationship between the breath and our emotions, and that improper breathing can create mental distress,” states Dr. Patricia Gerbarg who has studied the relationship between stress and the breath for decades.

I first read about ADT in a new book called “Real Happiness at Work” by Sharon Salzberg.  I’m not finished with it, but so far I would give it RAVE REVIEWS!! I had the good fortune to be at a meditation retreat with Sharon in January in Massachusetts at the meditation center she co-founded in the 70’s.  In fact, she is one of the first people who brought meditation practice to the West back then.  She is a fabulous teacher and offers very accessible practices for bringing sanity back into the workplace at a time when it is desperately needed.  One of the people that she interviewed for the book said “one deep, meditative breath can settle my mind before a meeting or even just checking an email.”

Get the book  and practice more easy exercises to bring happiness to your workplace.  Listen to some meditations on Sharon’s website or start here http://www.tricycle.com/online-retreats/real-happiness-work by listening to Sharon talk about “mindfulness and concentration.”  She is doing an online retreat through Tricycle Magazine during February.  The first week is free.

 

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Meditation Matters – A mindfulness in the workplace tip

Managing your energy throughout the day will determine if you feel good, get your work done, and have enough get-up-and-go left over to have fun with your family and friends after work.  Believe it or not, your energy level is one of the only things you have control over.  Some behaviors decrease your energy (like eating too much sugar or sitting in front of a computer for too many hours without a break) and some behaviors increase your energy (like taking time for a healthy lunch and positive self-talk).  When we have energy, we will feel a lot of vitality.  “Vitality” has been defined as having significant energetic resources and feeling enthusiastic and alive.

Most people I talk to say that their workday is too busy and they have too much to do—a set up for being burned out and fatigued.  That’s why it’s more important than ever to find ways to replenish your energy on a regular basis.  Taking “micro-breaks” that give you “momentary recovery” at work help you save time and energy in the long term.

However, not all breaks are the same.  Research on breaks at work demonstrate that smoking and getting a cup of coffee is detrimental to your health and rest breaks and physical activity during breaks tend to improve your health.  In fact, more frequent breaks that include rest or simple flexibility and strength exercises are associated with fewer injuries and accidents; less fatigue, anger, and depression; and increased mood.

meditateAnd, meditation matters. According to a study in the Academy of Management Perspectives (Fritz, Lam, and Spreitzer, 2011), out of 22 other strategies, meditation was the only “micro-break” that increased a person’s vitality during the workday.   Meditation was compared to things such as “drink water, have a snack, drink a caffeinated beverage, check and send personal emails and text, shop, nap, and physical activity.

In the same study, it was discovered that the work-related activities that improve vitality are to learn something new, focus on what gives you joy in your work, set a new goal, do something that will make a colleague happy, make time to show gratitude to someone you work with, seek feedback, reflect on how you make a difference at work, and reflect on the meaning of your work.

My suggestion would be to meditate for a few minutes at some point during the day.  Afterward, spend your day learning, building positive relationships at work, and reflecting on the meaning of what you do.  Oh.. and the thing NOT to do is “vent about a problem.”  That apparently really sucks your energy.  So the next time you feel like complaining, stop, close your eyes, and do a mini-meditation.  Don’t you feel better already?

 

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Sitting is the New Smoking (Take Two)

Busy partnersIf you haven’t heard already, sitting is the new smoking.  More and more research is being conducted that demonstrates just how devastating sitting is on the body.  So, although I’ve written about this before, I think it merits a second glance. Recently, the results from combining 18 studies and 800,000 participants reveals that people who spent the most time in chairs had a 147 percent increased risk of a cardiovascular event, a soaring diabetes risk, and a 49 percent greater chance to die earlier of any number of conditions.  And, even more, if you sit too long every day, regular exercise at night once you get off work doesn’t reverse the damage.

James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., is the man that you will hardly ever see sitting.  He coined the term NEAT which stand for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which represents the energy we expend doing ordinary normal activities during the day.  Dr. Levine has studied how we can reverse the damage from sitting by standing and other physical movement during the day.  For instance, in an article he was interviewed for in a recent Vogue magazine he says, “Standing should be your default mode—when you’re on the phone, texting, even watching TV.”

The obvious answer to the problem is to stand up more and take regular breaks throughout the day to walk and stretch.  What I have discovered as I’ve tried to encourage people to do this is we just aren’t used to standing up.  We sit everywhere–at our desks, at meetings, in waiting rooms, at the movies, at church, at our child’s soccer games, etc.   When I suggest to people that they stand up during my presentations (and I tell them why,) many people still sit and my guess is that a lot of the reason has to do with the way we’ve been trained.  We live in a culture that promotes sitting, it’s culturally safe, and it’s a hard-wired habit.  It feels weird to stand up and people don’t like doing something new and different, even it will save their health.

We need to change the culture and it starts with you.  Encourage co-workers to stand up during presentations, in classes, and in meetings.  Stand up when you’re on the phone.  Stand up when you’re visiting with a co-worker.  Or better yet, have “walk and talk meetings” with your colleagues.

There are many sit/stand desks available and walking work stations are slowly beginning to show up at the workplace.  These ergonomic solutions come in a variety of sizes and costs.  However, if you really want to stand up and work, there are options available. If you have a sit/stand desk, wear comfortable shoes and stand on a rubber pad for more comfort.  When you use a walking workstation, don’t walk faster than 2 miles per hour.  And, try not to get distracted while you’re walking and working. I did once and fell off the back end.

If you have other solutions to the “sitting” problem, add a comment below and let me know about it so I can share it with others.

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Mindfulness Reduces Stress, Boosts Productivity

business and workDo you notice how your body feels when it’s hunched over your computer for hours on end?  Do you eat your lunch away from your office and computer screen? Do you stop and take a break when you get overwhelmed with a project?  Do you pause and take a breath before you react to an email you didn’t like?  Do you take note of your accomplishments at the end of the day? If you answered no to any of these questions, then perhaps you need to bring more midnfulness into your workday.  For tips you can use everyday,  Click here to read my article that was just published in T + D, an award-winning magazine published by ASTD, the largest professional association dedicated to the training and development field. (Photo by Istock)

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Mindfulness at Work…8 to 5!

iStock_000015423426SmallEmployees who use mindfulness at the workplace have demonstrated lower stress, improved health, enhanced communication, better decision-making capabilities, and increased productivity.   Leaders who incorporate mindfulness into their work lives tend to be more effective in relating to others, motivating employees toward shared goals, building effective teams, and promoting the growth of their employees.  People, like me, see the workplace  as the next great frontier for teaching mindfulness practice to help people enhance their work lives.  There are meetings, conferences, and workshops springing up across the country where discussions transpire about the best way of building mindful organizations.

This all sounds great, right?  But, I recently had two colleagues forward me an article from Huffington Post entitled “Beyond McMindfulness” warning about the possible misuse of mindfulness within corporations and businesses.   The suggestion was that mindfulness could be used to help stressed out employees “work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments” filled with greed and immorality.  The article does end with the hope that the mindfulness movement will not just be a “corporate fad” but a “genuine force for positive personal and social transformation.”

One of my personality characteristics is “positivity,” so I see the glass as half full most of the time.  Therefore, I believe that mindfulness has such a powerful positive impact on individuals it can’t help but change the environment for the better.  Quite different than the stereotypical images of meditators zoning out with passivity, mindfulness empowers individuals to take beneficial action in their own lives and in the environment they work and live.  Mindfulness helps people respond with greater clarity and wisdom.  It does not make someone a doormat.

But, because I know it is more realistic to see the glass as both half full and half empty, it is important to be on the lookout for the ways the mindfulness can be misused and misunderstood.  It is important to realize the risks, yet imperative to offer this life-saving skill for people who are continuously being asked to “do more with less.”  A lot of us live at least half of our lives at work and it only makes sense to make it more humane and enjoyable.  Mindfulness can help us do both.

Go to my audio/video  tab for recordings you can use to start bringing mindfulness into your workday.

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