According to The American Institute of Stress, work is the most significant cause of stress for American adults. That’s a striking statistic, but it’s not surprising. All too easily, moments of anxiety and stress can overwhelm us and have us feeling like our world is crashing down around our ears.
This feeling isn’t reserved for big, life-changing moments. It can also happen at any point during the day when our sense of balance or well-being tips over the edge into chaos. This feeling can be due to the little things life throws our way on top of what we’re already dealing with under the surface.
For example, I was recently headed to a meeting and taking a train from a station I hadn’t been to before. When I drove up to the station, I had no idea where the parking lot was. I drove into the area where only buses are supposed to go, and then I drove around and around looking for a parking spot. I could feel the anxiety beginning to rise, so I responded with mindful self-compassion: I paused and said, out loud, “Don’t have anxiety, Julie. You’ve got plenty of time.”
That’s mindfulness at work: I noticed anxiety rising up, observed it without judgment and gave myself the gift of what I needed to hear at that moment to regain my balance. It really can be that simple: Experience an emotion, observe it without judgment and respond mindfully.
Here are some other tangible tips you can use next time you’re experiencing stress at work:
1. Recognize Stress When It’s Happening
Allow yourself to recognize when you feel stress. Name it, and identify what you are feeling and where. For example: “I feel stressed; my neck is tightening up. I feel anxious; my stomach feels upset. I feel agitated; I’m tapping my feet a lot.”
Naming the emotion and observing where it is occurring physically is one way to use mindfulness to step into awareness and out of the intensity of the emotional state.
2. Observe Yourself Without Judgment
In recognizing how you are feeling, take a moment to look at yourself as you would a dear friend. Observe yourself with kindness and compassion, not judgment. Ask your inner critic to take a back seat while you give yourself the caring you need to get through this moment.
Practice the pause: Take a slow, deep breath and exhale slowly. Repeat four or five times. Pay attention to your breath, and count the number of breaths. Again, this technique takes you out of the intensity of your stressful feelings.
4. Give Yourself Reminders
I like to use little colored dot stickers, which you can find at almost any office supply store. Place a sticker on your computer, on your work phone and even on your dashboard in your car. When you see the sticker, take it as your cue to take a slow, deep breath.
5. Keep a Here-and-now Stone on Your Desk
Find any stone that feels good in the palm of your hand. It doesn’t need to be fancy; you can find one in your yard, on a walk, or even at an arts and crafts store. Keep the stone on your desk at work, and pick it up any time you feel stressed.
Really feel the stone in your hands. Focus mindfully on its texture, its temperature and its weight. Then, observe its shape, color and patterns. I like to call this stone a “here-and-now stone,” because it brings you into the present moment, stopping the loop of discursive thoughts that were stressing you out.
What a difference these techniques can make! I invite you to try them out in your own life. Let me know how it goes!