Category Archives: Workplace Wellness

Go Ahead and Smile!

A handsome young black man against a yellow background

With the current Fitbit craze, you’re probably aware of the health benefits of getting in 10,000 steps a day. But are you aware of all of the health benefits of smiling?

I’d like to invite you to do a little experiment. Put a smile on your face right now and leave it there for 30 seconds. Notice how it makes you feel.  According to the facial feedback hypothesis, facial muscles not only express emotions, but they also have the ability to modulate how you feel. In other words, if you put a smile on your face you can change from feeling angry or anxious to feeling happier or initiate a happy feeling “out of the blue.” When you smile, you are literally sending messages to your brain that you’re happy and eventually you agree. Continue reading

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Mindfulness Throughout the Day

Smiling“Mindfulness is easy. Remembering to be mindful is the challenge.“ These are wise words from Christina Feldman, a meditation teacher from England.

If you have tried to practice mindfulness, you know exactly what she’s talking about. In the moment, sensations are quite accessible–feeling your body, listening to sounds, hearing your thoughts, and feeling your emotions. But, it is truly amazing how we can block out our entire experience of being present with the busy activity of our lives. You can go all day without really being present for it.

So, here are a few ways that you can make mindfulness more accessible on a regular basis. These are particularly well suited for practicing mindfulness throughout the workday. Continue reading

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Mindfulness – A Very Productive Activity!

MindSetI recently introduced a small group of women to the concept and practice of mindfulness. As usual, people were very enthusiastic, curious, and a little confused about how practical it is to practice mindfulness on a regular basis. On the surface, it seems very obvious.  Everyone wants to be more present in their lives, right? Underneath the surface, however, there can be some anxiety about what actually” living in the present without judgment” would do to change you and your life.

I often ask people who have a hard time seeing the value in mindfulness, “how much time you spend getting to know yourself?”  Usually the answer is “Never.” You don’t think twice about inviting a friend for coffee or lunch to see how she is doing, but you rarely, if ever, spend time with you—cultivating the most important relationship you will ever have.  Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

You can start with a short daily meditation practice.  It doesn’t have to be very long.  Here is a meditation with awareness on the breath that lasts under ten minutes.  If you have never practiced meditation, you will probably be aware of many obstacles to sitting and “just breathing” for a period of time.  Namely, you could experience restlessness and have the thought “I should be doing something productive instead of just sitting here with my breath.”  If this happens, remind yourself that meditating is doing something.  What you are “producing” may not be as obvious as when you are sitting down in front of a computer, but I guarantee you that change is occurring.

Some of the change is in how you relate to yourself.  With mindfulness, you are practicing kindness toward yourself and that always translates into feeling better.  Some of the change is happening at the physical level. The body begins to relax. Some of the change is happening in your brain. You are training the mind to be more focused and alert. Being alert and relaxed is really the optimal way to engage in your life and be more productive when you are doing anything else you need to do.

Don’t expect drastic changes all at once. Mindfulness takes practice and gradually begins to open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to a new of living and being.  It is a gradual shift. It’s just like anything else you want to get good at. You have to practice it.  Eventually you might notice that you are less reactive to a co-worker, you don’t yell at your kids as much, and you don’t get mad at people who don’t drive the way you think they should.  You might notice you are more patient or friendly toward yourself.

In essence, mindfulness sets the stage for the type of story you would like to have unfold in your life. When you begin to live more in the present moment with curiosity and kindness, you will begin to connect to yourself. And, when you do that, you are more likely to create the relationships with others that are more sincere and meaningful.  You are more likely to create the life that you want. Do you want a disastrous melodrama or would an exciting adventure story (with a happy ending, of course) be more to your liking.  It’s up to you.

There are many meditations on this website that you can use to get you started.  Feel free to download them and share them with others. Also, if you are a University of Missouri employee and working on getting points for your wellness incentive this year, you can even get points for meditating by logging into your Cerner portal and going to the workshop section of their website.

 

 

 

 

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Mindfulness Opportunities To Make Time For In 2015!

As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, one of the ways to have more time is to take some of it time for mefor yourself.  And, as we start the New Year, now is a good time to set the intention to take more time for mindfulness. Some people call it self-care, I call it a necessity.

Taking “time” for mindfulness might sound like an oxymoron.  But, unless you are already an enlightened being who dwells only in the present and without judgment, you might want to consider being inspired to take time to practice mindfulness by a few of my suggestions below.

TED Talks on Meditation Continue reading

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5 Tips for People Too Busy to Meditate

Be mindful in letterpress wood typeWhen someone tells me he is too busy to meditate, I know he is just the person that needs it most. The busier you are, the more you need to take time for a bit of mindfulness.  I’m sure you have felt the energy drain of a day when there is too much to do.  Instead of grabbing another cup of coffee or some sugar to give you an energy boost, try a little mindfulness.  Just like you plug in your cellphone every night, plugging into the present can be a great re-charge for your body and mind.

Mindfulness is about dropping in on all of our senses in the ever changing moment we call “now” with kindness and curiosity.  It just takes a few minutes throughout the day to make a huge difference in how you feel, how you respond to the stress in your life, and how much energy you have for all of the things you want to do.

  1. Do a three minute breathing space.  This short exercise is one of the favorites from my classes. Developed by Mark Williams, Zindel Segal, and John Teasdale for their mindfulness-based intervention for depression, it is a perfect way for dropping out of automatic pilot and dropping into your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
  2. Take a mindful walk.  For three minutes, get up and simply walk.  Don’t think about your worries, your projects, and your to-do list.  Be aware of your body moving, placing your feet on the ground, the movement of your legs, the air against your skin, the muscles that are involved in moving you forward.  Every time your mind wanders, bring your attention back to simply walking.  Come back refreshed and more energized.
  3. Do a short seeing exercise.  For a couple of minutes, stand at a window and gaze outside.  Take in the sky, the clouds, the sun, the rain, the trees, the flowers, the birds, the cars, the buildings, etc.  Scan the environment and just notice the colors, the shapes, and the sizes. Be aware of the world around you. Breathing gently in and out and bringing your curious awareness back to your surroundings. See what you discover.
  4. When you are in a conversation with someone, let the other person be your object of mindfulness.  When your mind wanders from what the other person is saying, come back to the words that they are speaking.  When the person is finished talking, repeat back to the person what you heard them say so that you know you have understood them.  Notice how you get distracted and keep bringing yourself back to the person in front of you.
  5. Break out of your routine.  Nothing gets our attention more than novelty.  The problem is we fall into routine patterns and habits that lull us to sleep.  In the morning, eat something different for breakfast.  Drive or commute a different way to work. Meet someone new for lunch. Take in a new activity – a new museum, store, sport, hiking trail, lecture, or a new restaurant. Make your life a little spicier and notice how it brings you more fully into the moment.

While it is recommended that you engage in longer periods of time for sitting meditation or yoga, there are great benefits to be found in little mini mindfulness moments throughout your day. In fact, mindfulness throughout the day is the final goal anyway. You can bring your mindfulness to any activity and make it a meditation.

By coming back to the moment over and over again, no matter what you’re doing, you will improve your ability to take care of your busy day with more ease.  You will have more attention and focus so you get things done faster.  You will be utilizing the decision-making, creative parts of your brain so your performance will improve. And you will be calmer which makes you feel good and enhances the quality of the relationships you have with others.

Turn your busy day into a mindful day.

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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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