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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Healthy Fast Food Couldn’t Be Any Easier – Rossy’s Summer Vegetable Mix

This is the week in my mindful eating class where I suggest that people eat food that honors their taste buds, their body, and the environment.  What does that mean?   To me, it means eating food that puts a smile on my face and food that is local, organic, and seasonal as much as possible.

I went to the farmers’ market on Sunday for lots of vegetables because my body was really craving them.  I had eaten a lot of meat for a few days, and I could tell that my body was feeling heavy and operating on less energy than usual.

Monday when I came home from work I just started throwing things together.  Let’s call it the Rossy’s Summer  Vegetable Mix and  let’s call it “delicious.” photo (5)

Cut up the following:

Garlic (I use a lot, so gauge by your taste preference)
Zucchini (yellow and green for extra color)
Tomatoes
Kale

Saute the above ingredients in proportions that you prefer in olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add one can of organic beans, drained and rinsed (I used pinto beans, but you can use anything you like).

After it was all heated, I added some fresh basil and pine nuts and let it cook for just a minute then topped it all  with grated parmesiano reggiano (the best I can buy because I can really tell the difference in taste).

In way less than 30 minutes you can have a delicious meal and, if you live alone like I do, you have supper for the next day as well.

The secret to the taste in this dish is the freshness of the ingredients—mostly straight from a farm nearby.  This is the time of year when you can throw almost any fresh produce together and it will taste good.  Try a combination that sounds good to you.  You can also throw it over rice or some pasta for a heartier meal.

Enjoy!

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To Listen and Be Heard – Mindfulness in Communication

Communication should be easy, right?  I say something and you listen.  You say something and I listen.  However, communication in which each person feels heard and acknowledged is actually quite rare.

“Every good
conversation
starts with
good listening.”

In the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program I taught this week, we did an exercise in which one person talks and one person listens for 2-3 minutes. People commented how different this was from their normal conversation.  Many had not ever experienced listening or being listened in this way and decided it would probably really help if they did.  Good communication starts with good listening.

Reflect on your recent communications.  How did they feel?  Did you feel acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted? Do you think the other person did?  If not, then there might be a number of things going on.  Too often we are so busy thinking about how something will impact us, how it relates to our experience, and what we will say when we have a chance, that we don’t really hear the other person.

Another big barrier to communication is we are all VERY BUSY and don’t take the time to really be present for another person.  Today, like most days, I felt very rushed by everything I needed to do for work.  I ran home to meet the Culligan man so he could carry salt downstairs for my water softener.  Instead of being impatient and in my “I’m busy” mode, I decided to be simply present for this other human being who was showing up in my life.  Because I took just a few more seconds to be open, I had the most wonderful interaction.  I found out my Culligan man is a musician on the side and is working on a song for veterans that might be part of a larger project to help veterans.  He found out I was a health psychologist and I gave him tips on how to get running back into his life and perhaps eat a little better.  It didn’t take much longer than if I’d tried to rush him along (maybe a minute or two).  The gift of connection was priceless and impacted how I felt the rest of my day.

Here are some tips for improving your communication skills.

  1. Be present and listen more during the first three or four minutes of any conversation.  This will completely change your relationships with others.
  2. Paraphrase what you heard the other person say so that you’re sure you understood her.  We often only hear our version of what the person said.
  3. In difficult communications, connect with the sensations of your body (feel your feet on the floor and feel your breath) as a way of staying open to what the other person.  Difficult communications often bring up fear in us and staying with the breath and the body can help ground you.
  4. Before giving someone your advice, ask if it is wanted.  We love to help but sometimes people just want to be heard. Generally having a sounding board will help someone tap into to their own internal wisdom about what to do.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus

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Excited About Food!

To stay excited about eating, I save up my pennies and go out to eat once in a while in places that know how to make really good food.  It helps me remember to be a more creative cook, and it helps me remember how incredible food can taste from the hands of a really good chef. Friday I took a trip to Kansas City with a friend for a birthday celebration. We went to a good vegetarian restaurant on The Plaza called Eden Alley, to the Nelson Atkins Museum for the Frida Kahlo exhibit,  and then to a nice restaurant afterward.

photo (2)At Eden Alley I had gazpacho and I remembered how fresh and wonderful a gazpacho tastes in the summer.  So, I went to the farmers market this morning and picked up the ingredients I didn’t already have at home and made a gazpacho for lunch.  I didn’t look up a recipe but just used what I thought would be great and what I had handy.  I chopped up cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, onion, and garlic. I squeezed the juice of a lemon over it and cut up some basil to throw in as well.  I put a good splash of olive oil on it and some sea salt and pepper and I was done. I also put some chunks of goat cheese on top when I served it.  This would qualify as one of my “healthy fast food” recipes.  It tasted great; wasn’t expensive; didn’t take long to make; was great for my body; and had local, organic, seasonal ingredients!

At dinner I had ordered smoked duck empanadas on black beans and avocado.  The first bite was so filled with flavor I actually had to stop and warn my friend phototo really pay attention or he might miss how wonderful the food was.  Well, he didn’t miss it.  He actually had tears in his eyes over how good his lamb tasted.  He is more sensitive than most men, but it was really amazing.  For dessert, we ordered the German chocolate cake.  OMG! That’s all I can say.  The last bite was as good as the first and I savored every one.

I know that every meal can’t be a gourmet event, but perking up your taste buds once in a while can help re-inspire your delight in food.  Find a new restaurant to try, buy a new type of  food to cook, or get out some of those old favorite recipes that you love.  I was also reminded that when food is really good you don’t need a lot of it to satisfy you.  That’s good for your taste buds and your waist line.

Enjoy!

 

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Habit Releasers – Mindfulness to Shake Up your World!

Feeling a little frantic lately?  Needing a little peace in your day?  Well, I have just the thing for you. There is a new book out called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

It is written by Mark Williams, who is a wonderful mindfulness teacher and researcher that I met at a mindfulness conference a number of years ago, and Danny Penman, a writer for UK’s Daily Mail.  Mark has done a lot of work with mindfulness as it relates to depression and co-authored a couple of books on that topic. These are also worth a look if you have any struggles with depression.

His current book appears to be very close to an outline for the mindfulness-based stress reduction program that was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and that is taught at the University of Missouri (among thousands of other places in the world).   So, if you can’t get to a class, you could pick this book up and get a lot of the same exercises.  NOTE:  taking an in-person class will help you understand the material better and help keep you more accountable.  Actually doing  the mindfulness practices on a regular basis is the key to finding peace in a frantic world—not just reading about them.

One of the exercises in the book I really like is called a “Habit Releaser.”  Give it a try.  All you have to do is make a deliberate choice to break out of one (or more) of your usual routines.  For instance, notice which chair you normally sit in at home, at a meeting, in a coffee shop, or at work and then sit somewhere different and new.  Or perhaps you could drive a different route to work or to the grocery store.  Walk a different route than you normally do.

There is nothing wrong with having habits but they tend to put us to sleep and on automatic pilot.  Changing up the scenery, even by just sitting in a different chair, can show you something new and give you a new perspective on life.  Be aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of this new way of doing things.  Comment your experience below and tell me what you discovered!  There is a whole world out there you miss most of the time.

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Cooking with Martha – A Spring Green Garden Lunch!

photo (19)I recently had the good fortune of spending a Saturday morning cooking lunch with my good friend and fabulous chef, Martha.  I’d asked her if she would cook up something with me once a month that I could share with my readers.  So this is my first “Cooking with Martha” blog and I hope there will be many more to come—both for you and for me.  I get to eat great food and hopefully you will be inspired to cook something different and tasty in the near future.

Martha, of course, doesn’t cook from one recipe but combines a number of different ones and adds her own little twist on them depending on her mood and what the local farmer’s market has in store for her each week.  The dishes we prepared were: Asparagus Braised with Peas, Mushrooms, and Spring Onion; Carrots cooked in butter; and Polenta with grated Parmesan Cheese.  What a feast!

You don’t have to make them all together, although it was quite a nice meal.  Think about how you can use polenta more, how you can throw in some sautéed carrots for an extra vegetable at any meal, or cook together a bunch of vegetables for a beautiful presentation and tasty meal of what’s fresh and in season.

Here are the recipes.

photo (21)Asparagus Braised with Peas, Mushrooms, and Spring Onion
1 pound asparagus (snap off the hard part at the bottom and and slice into lengths about 1”)
2 pounds frozen peas or shelled fresh peas (can you also use edamame or any kind of cannellini or fava beans)
3 Tb. Unsalted butter
5 spring onions, or other small fresh onions, thinly sliced
1 head green garlic, thinly sliced (this is the new garlic that you can only get in the spring, so you can use regular garlic during other times of the year)
½ c. white wine or vegetable broth
Mushrooms (as many varieties as you’d like—we used shitake, oyster, and cremini)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
A few basil leaves or chives, chopped

Prepare the asparagus and peas for cooking.  Melt 2 TB. of butter  in a skillet.  Add onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until they are starting to soften.  Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and sauté a few minutes longer. You don’t want them to get very brown or crispy. Add the wine or vegetable broth and let it cook down a little. Add the asparagus and about ¾ cup water, and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer until the asparagus is almost tender (about 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness).  Add peas and cook until done (about 2 minutes).  Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Add the last TB. of butter and remove from heat.  Add the basil or chives and serve over polenta or pasta.

photo (16)Carrots cooked in Butter
Cut up your carrots, sprinkle with salt to taste, and cook slowly in butter in a skillet until tender. They might get a little golden but should not brown. If they are starting to brown before they get tender, add a couple of tablespoons of water to help them steam a little. Add chives on top. VERY EASY!

photo (13)Polenta with Parmesan Cheese
If you buy a package of corn grits (polenta), here are the instructions: Use 4 cups of water to 1 cup polenta. Bring water to a boil in a deep saucepan, then pour polenta in slowly. Stir vigorously for a couple of minutes with a whisk to make sure there are no lumps. Then cook over very low heat for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every few minutes with a spoon. However, I was informed by Martha that you should only stir the polenta in one direction (this is what she learned from great Italian cooks a couple of summers ago). Do not let the polenta splatter as it is very hot and can burn you. You will know the polenta is done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan when you stir it. After you cook the polenta you can stir in as much grated parmesan cheese as you’d like.  Yum!!! And also VERY EASY! Note: An even easier way is to buy instant polenta and follow package directions. This will only take a few minutes to prepare.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes by commenting below!

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Mindfulness teaches us how to respond in 1/2 second or less

How many times have you done a particular behavior even though you’ve told yourself just as many times that you aren’t going to do it ever again?  Be honest. You don’t have to tell anyone.  But, you do have to live with the consequences of your behavior.  This morning it was me getting mad and throwing up my hands at the lady in the big red SUV behind me at the stoplight.  The second the light turned green she was honking at me and it really caught me off guard.

imagesCATU9PPADid you know that you have one-half of a second between the time you see something, hear something, think something, or read something before you engage in a behavior.  For instance, you have one-half of a second after you see the chocolate cake with chocolate icing in the break room at work to decide “I’m not going to have any because I’m not hungry” or just mindlessly gobble down a piece (or two).  That’s why you might be on the “see food, eat food” diet.  You’re just not present for that one-half of a second when you could choose the behavior based on your real hunger.

This means that you have to be REALLY PRESENT to catch that one-half of a second.  Just think about how many minutes and hours go by that you aren’t really present and the enormity of this proposition becomes clear.  Cheri Huber wrote, “We don’t lack self-discipline, we lack presence.”   I tell this to people in my classes who are working on not eating when they’re stressed, bored, or distracted. It’s not about self-discipline; it’s about being aware of where you are and what you are doing. Continue reading

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Changing the Culture of Food at Work

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week I wrote about three easy ways to de-stress at work which included taking time out to take a walk and breath.  Now I’ve read a study in Population Health Management published in the last year which shows that not exercising AND eating unhealthily are linked with large reductions in productivity at work (50 percent and 66 percent respectively).  If you’re one of those that isn’t walking (or otherwise exercising) and not eating healthy, you might have a lot of work piling up on you that isn’t getting done.  No wonder the average worker reports feels stressed out at work.   Being at work without feeling capable of working is called “presenteeism” and affects us all to one degree or another.

The reason eating healthier could help you be more productive is because you’re supplying the body and mind with important nutrients.  You feel more awake and alert when you eat healthy, leaving you feeling energized for all the work you need to accomplish.

So, how can you eat healthier at work?  First of all, think about the culture of food at your workplace.  People bring in all kinds of unhealthy food to share with one another (think cookies, cakes, candy, etc.).  I know that this has turned into “thing we do” at work and I talk to people who look to cookies, cakes, and candy to provide comfort and pleasure.  While that may work temporarily, this kind of eating  then leads to feeling bad about yourself and a lack of energy for the work you have to do.  This behavior ultimately culminates in difficulties meeting the demands of your job and that’s when your stress level increases.  As the stress level increases, you produce cortisol in the body which is associated with the storage of fat around your middle.  Look down at your waistline and see if that’s true for you.

Isn’t it time we started thinking about how we can change our mind-set about what to eat at work?  Here are some suggestions for eating healthier at work.

  1. Start a fruit bowl in your office (to replace the old candy bowl)
  2. Bring in healthy snacks so you won’t be tempted by the cookies, cakes, and candy.
  3. Healthy snacks to bring to work include whole grain crackers, peanut or almond butter, dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, fresh vegetables, hummus, and yogurt cups.
  4. Suggest healthier food at meetings (forget the donuts and bring on the fresh fruit)
  5. Have healthy potlucks with your co-workers to get people thinking about how to cook healthy.
  6. Don’t bring in the food you want to get rid of at home (so you don’t eat it).  Throw it away!
  7. Post this blog in an area where everyone can read it.

Tell me some things that you do at work to make the food culture healthier and if you are a University of Missouri employee you’ll be entered into a drawing for a Healthy for Life lunch bag!!  Last week’s winner was Nancy Johnson, who won a new yoga mat.

If you’d like to know more about how to eat healthier all the time, think about enrolling in my next Eat for Life class starting at the end of May.  Contact me at RossyL@umsystem.edu for more information.

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Three easy ways to de-stress at work

4240000_thumbnailI recently gave a presentation about taking care of your body when you’re under stress.  For most of us, that would be every day.  Wanting to give something to people that they could remember when they’re caught in the middle of stress, I came up with three easy steps to de-stress.  For the biggest effect, do these steps throughout the day and you’ll probably notice stress doesn’t get out of control nearly as often.  Comment on your favorite de-stress technique and be entered for a prize.

1. Take 5 deep, long breaths and feel the sensations of your body from head to toe (Remember to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in because that way you will have room for a big inhale—very important!)

2. Take a short walk (down the hall, around the building, up and down the stairs)

3. Put a smile on your face and visualize something that makes you feel good.

I do these three steps a lot and find in a very short time I feel much better.  You can even do all three steps at once.   Breathe deep, smile, and think about something you feel good about while taking a walk and in a minute or two you can’t help but feel better.

Bringing yourself back into the present moment by focusing on the breath and body has been shown to help you engage your mind in a way that promotes problem solving and creativity (just what you need when you’re stressed).

Add the pleasant memory of something you feel good about and you’ll be even more ready to go back to whatever you were doing with greater calm and ease. The brain needs to be trained to be aware of the pleasant and wonderful things in our lives.  Otherwise, it tends to be focused on the negative.

What are you doing today to de-stress at work?  Share your comments about your favorite de-stressing technique and, if you’re a University of Missouri employee, you’ll be entered into drawing for a new yoga mat!

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