Feeling stressed at work? You’re not the only one. According to recent statistics, almost 1 in 7 people experience mental health problems in the workplace. With increasingly long working hours and a cost of living crisis going on, it’s no wonder that burnout statistics are rising globally.
Left unchecked, chronic stress can be detrimental to our physical and mental health, raising our risk of conditions like heart disease, anxiety, depression and diabetes. Thankfully, there are steps we can take to soothe stress and feel more resilient.
Specifically, we could try mindfulness. It’s a type of meditation that involves focusing your mind on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Mindfulness can help us calm anxious thoughts and become more aware of what’s happening.
Thanks to celebrity endorsements, apps and best-selling books, the practice – which can help us feel happier, calmer and more fulfilled – has moved from niche self-help territory into the mainstream.
We spoke to mindfulness practitioners about bringing more of this stillness to our working day. Next time your to-do list feels insurmountable, try incorporating these simple tips.
1. Take a moment to breathe at your desk
Whether you’re tackling a busy commute or already ruminating on your first meeting, the mornings can feel like the most stressful part of the day.
“It’s tempting to get cracking with work immediately without allowing yourself space and time to settle into your environment. Take a moment to ground yourself gently – it can help set the flow for the day,” explains yoga instructor and Ark co-founder Summer Jupp.
Jupp recommends taking one or two minutes to intentionally breathe before firing up your laptop, as this can help to calm an overactive nervous system and make the transition into work less anxious.
2. Set intentions for the day
Intentions are commitments we make to ourselves. “They aren’t writing your to-do list and trying to complete all your daily tasks,” stresses Jupp. “Intentions are being clear with one or two things you can achieve for your health and wellbeing.”
Whether it’s drinking enough water or stretching your legs once every hour, make nourishing self-care a priority amongst all the other work tasks on your list.
While you’re on the job, look for mental or physical cues that you need a break too – like struggling to focus on the screen or tension in the shoulders. Taking a small, five-minute break to grab a glass of water can help you to step away and nip the stress in the bud.
3. Take a midday reset
Mindfulness is about small but impactful intentions that help us feel calm, collected and energised throughout the day.
Headspace meditation teacher Samantha Snowdon recommends setting a lunchtime reminder on your phone for a ‘midday reset’. “This involves letting go of everything that has happened up to this moment while taking deep breaths in and out,” she says. “Try to feel the sensation of the body rising and falling as you let go of any tension that’s been building up in the morning.”
If you struggle to tune out of anxious thoughts, you could try using guided meditations to help you clear your mind at your desk. The Headspace app has a whole range of meditations on different topics, as well as beginner courses to help you get started.
4. Get out in nature
It’s easy to lose sight of positivity, especially when you’re around other people’s stress and negativity at the office. Studies have shown that time in nature is an antidote for stress, helping to soothe tension during our working day. In fact, studies have found just 20 minutes in nature is all we need to calm the central nervous system, elevate our mood, and increase energy levels.
Nature bathing is the practice of spending deliberate time outdoors to appreciate the beauty of the natural environment around you. If you can, take your full lunch break and go for a walk in the woods or to a local park. ”Take in the smells, the noises and the sensations,” says Snowden. The effects of being in nature can resonate for hours afterwards, too, setting you up for a productive afternoon.
5. Be mindful with your free time
Now’s the hard bit – setting boundaries. Time pressure and expectations to be available 24/7 make it difficult to detach from work. Learn to say ‘no’ to tasks that will take you over your contracted hours and silence notifications at the end of the day so you won’t be tempted to dip back into work emails.
“If you work from home, build a physical barrier, and change your working and relaxing environment,” says Snowden. “Even simple tasks like packing away your bag and moving rooms can signal to your brain that it’s time to relax.”
Finally, rest and recovery are essential for our health and wellbeing, so we shouldn’t overlook the benefits. Finishing your work day means mentally disengaging, too – so try to plan activities that can help you to switch off and avoid ruminating on conversations and emails that happened earlier at the office.