Publisher’s Note: The following article, written by CQIU’s Nishita Morris, first appeared on Yoga International. Yoga International is a fantastic digital resource with articles, videos, and practices for anyone interested in nurturing their overall well-being. The original piece can be found here.
Most Americans between the ages of 25 to 54 spend close to nine hours per day engaged in work-related activities—that’s more time than they spend on anything else in their lives. It may not be surprising, then, that workplace stress is common, sometimes severe, and is associated with five to eight percent of national health care spending (approximately 125 to 190 billion dollars). Some stress is normal, even if you love your job. But too much work stress can lead to major health problems, such as depression and heart disease, and can also affect worker productivity.
Signs and symptoms of excessive workplace stress include fatigue, inability to concentrate, loss of interest in work tasks, muscle tension, headaches, and general anxiety, irritability, and persistent sadness. Learning to identify the sources of stress for you in the workplace, and then effectively managing those stressors, can dramatically improve your overall quality of life.
In addition to simply bringing components of your personal yoga practice to your desk or even requesting on-site group classes at work, here are some ways to integrate yoga, mindfulness, and meditation into your workday and help combat common stressors.
• Punch in with positivity. Start your workday with 10 to 15 minutes of work-focused contemplation, journaling, and gratitude. You may arrive early to work to do this, or you can set aside time before the day begins if you feel you will be unable to do this in your work space. Try focusing on one positive work-specific affirmation to tune your mind and body for the day ahead. Set written goals for what you’d like to achieve during your workday, and visualize yourself happily accomplishing them. And direct positive focus to the gifts of your job (such as an uplifting coworker you would not have otherwise met, or the steady paycheck you receive). Schedule this activity in your daily agenda just as you would any other task, and stick with it! It can set the tone for your whole day.
• Get the mindfulness memo. Cultivate mindfulness throughout the day. Once you have your to-do list, focus on each individual task—without checking every email that dings, scrolling social media, or allowing the length of the list to overwhelm and distract you. If you find yourself straying from the task at hand, simply do what’s recommended in many meditation practices: notice your distraction without judgment, and then return to the original task (and it also may help to take a few conscious breaths!). Carry mindfulness into other aspects of your day as well, such as into the foods you eat while at work. Workplaces can be notorious for less-nourishing fare, like catered meals from fast-food restaurants or your office mate’s self-replenishing candy bowl. Eating more nutritious foods regularly throughout the day will fuel your mind and body—supporting your energy levels, mental focus, and even your moods.
• Reboot your drive. If you find yourself feeling cranky, wound up, or lethargic during the workday, get your body moving! See if you can take a break for some “office yoga,” especially beneficial if your job keeps you seated for most of the day. If it might feel better to temporarily step out of your workspace, see if you can find an empty room or outdoor space to enjoy a few stretches. Or take a short “walking meditation” break at lunch (or even on the long way to the restroom, if you must!). Use this time to simply breathe, clear your thoughts, and focus on the present moment. Implementing a bit of positive visualization while walking can help as well. If you know specifically what might be affecting your state of mind, imagine and feel that situation as you would like it to be.
• Work well. If your colleagues are also interested in bringing yoga, mindfulness, and meditation to the workplace, and if you have management that supports doing so, bring in an instructor to teach classes on-site. In fact, workplace wellness programs are becoming commonplace. These programs utilize the office to affect employee health outcomes, and if well-designed, can also provide benefits to the business—such as reduction in health insurance claims and worker absenteeism, and improved employee morale. Many workplace wellness programs, based on employee interest and need, will provide health education, wellness tools, and fitness classes. If you know your workplace offers a wellness program, investigate what exactly is offered. The best source for more information about your workplace wellness program is usually a benefits coordinator or wellness coordinator within the Human Resources department. If you do not already have untapped access to stress-reduction tools such as yoga classes, mindfulness-based stress reduction courses, and guided meditations, then express your interest!
• Punch out with…actually punching out. Maintain work-life balance. Working remotely allows employees to always remain “connected,” and more than half of workers report checking in with work in the evenings and weekends. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it often allows for flexible working hours and increased productivity, more than one-third of workers report that constant connection has increased their workload or made them feel that they can’t stop thinking about work. If you truly enjoy your work and like working in spurts around the clock, have at it! Otherwise, ask yourself if that email really has to be sent at 10 pm. If not, use your time outside of work on activities that nurture and enrich you in other ways—such as your yoga practice!