It is undoubtedly the case that the events of the past year or so have greatly affected the way we work. And now, over a year on from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are still in very unfamiliar working environments. Whether you are working from your home, or have begun the move back into an office with colleagues, there is no denying the fact that you will have to spend a considerable amount of time in work mode. It was very common to feel stress or anxiety even before the additional uncertainty of the pandemic was introduced into our lives, so it is entirely expected that we will be feeling a heightened level of unpleasant emotions now. If you are looking for a little bit of extra support throughout your working day then there is one simple step that you can take to look after your mental health: meditation.
You may be familiar with meditation as a formal practice. Maybe you even have your own routine, where you set aside half an hour, turn your phone to silent mode and truly dedicate this time to meditation. It might seem counterproductive to the process to practise in the middle of an office setting, or while you’re trying to write an important email to your boss. But in reality, we can meditate just about anywhere, doing just about anything. And by meditating while we work we can both increase our productivity, and establish a healthier mindset towards our work.
Why meditate at work?
As we have just discussed, it may be against everything you’ve learned about meditation up until this point to meditate while working. So, can you really meditate at work, and why exactly are we advising you, or rather encouraging you to do this?
- You spend a lot of time there
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our working routines have become very different. Whether you work in an office space with colleagues, or at home by yourself, you will undoubtedly spend a huge amount of time in a working environment. Either option provides its own unique set of challenges, whether that is from restrictions that we must all respect while out in public spaces, or from the shift to working without colleagues around you, and in a space that is not necessarily set up for work. Therefore, it is more important than ever that we take particular care of our mental health now.
- You don’t need to set aside time
Meditation at work can be done while writing, reading, walking or talking. We are not advising you to take huge numbers of breaks, rather you can practise mindful awareness as you work. This means that there will be no hit to your productivity, and you can avoid increased stress further down the road when you have to explain to your boss why you haven’t been completing your work.
- Meditation decreases stress
Meditation during the working day can help you to keep on top of your stress levels. Rather than allowing them to overwhelm you, meditation gifts you the opportunity to check in on yourself at regular intervals.
- It will improve your work
Not only will meditation allow you to create an awareness of your mind throughout the day, but it will also work to re-centre you on your work. You will find that you can focus more easily, you will feel more creative, deadlines will not cause you to panic, and your problem-solving abilities will be enhanced. This is all due to an increased feeling of capability that regular meditation gives you.
How do you meditate at work?
The question now is of course, how do I meditate while at work? Again, I’m not condoning taking lots of breaks during your working day, (as much as I’d like to). Instead, there are things that you can do while you work to improve your mental health, and to spend the time at your desk – or wherever you happen to be working – wisely. Below I’ve listed some of the most effective ways to incorporate short meditations into your working day.
To meditate mindfully, all you really need to do is divert all you focus on to one thing. This is actually a great tool to improve productivity – so if you’re a boss, you might want to start taking some notes now.
This may seem like oversimplified explanation of mindful meditation, but once to begin to practise you will notice that it can be tricky at times. What we suggest, is that when you come to start your next task in your working day, attempt to focus solely on that task. You will experience your attention wandering, but whenever you notice that your thoughts have moved to what’s for dinner tonight, or the lovely sunny weather outside, gently guide it back to the task at hand. Eventually, you will grow your ability to remain focussed for longer and longer periods.
This technique can be used when you are doing anything and does not mean that you are neglecting the task. In fact, it means you are attempting to give the task your entire attention. By remaining in the now, you will be able to quell the worrisome thoughts and distractions that usually take up so much space in your mind.
- Breathing exercises
Another way to mindfully meditate is to focus on your breath. Although this does require your focus to be directed at one anchor, it gives you more of an opportunity to calm your thoughts than simply mindfully being aware of the email you are writing, or the colleague you are speaking to. Maybe try mindful breathing exercises when you feel particularly overwhelmed, or stressed.
An exercise you can try is box breathing. Box breathing requires you to inhale for around five to six seconds, hold the breath in for five to six seconds, exhale for five to six seconds and then hold again for five to six seconds before starting the cycle over again. While you breathe in this strict way you should draw a box in your mind; one side for your inhale, one side when you hold, another when you exhale and the final side while you hold again.
- Body scan
Completing a body scan on yourself can be a great method of re-centring your attention to the current moment. You can complete a full-body scan while sitting at your desk and can keep your eyes open if this is more comfortable for you.
Simply begin by becoming aware of all the sensations in the top of your head, and move your awareness all the way down your body, until you reach your toes. While your awareness scans your body, identify where you feel tense – while sitting at a desk many of us can experience tension in our jaws, shoulders and backs. If you do feel any tightness or tension, attempt to breathe deeply into this area, and relax it. Body scans are another example of how mindfulness can present a wonderful opportunity to re-focus our attention on the present moment. This will help to reduce our feelings of stress and help us to gather our focus effectively on the task at hand.
Loving-kindness is especially easy to perform while in an office setting. We can do this by setting a rule; after every phone call we make in the day we will take a moment to wish the person we were speaking to well, or each time a colleague walks past our desk we will say a silent hope that they experience love and happiness in their life. A huge part of mindfulness is training our minds not to view the world with judgement. By practising loving-kindness we can teach our minds to express caring, warm thoughts rather than judgemental ones.
- Walking Meditation
Whether you work from home or in an office environment, you can complete a walking meditation at any point in the day. The idea is to go for a walk, and while you walk notice the feeling of the floor under your feet. Once you have become fully aware of this sensation, try to shift your awareness up into your ankle, then your legs and knees, and up into your hips. If you are restricted to your desk during the day, try to take a walk on your break and try this practice then.
Desk meditation, though on the surface can seem less than ideal, is actually just as essential to our meditation journey as our structured practices. It gives us the opportunity to take a moment in our busy day, and truly re-centre ourselves. Whether you are feeling overwhelmed about an upcoming deadline, uninspired and lacking in creativity, or it just feels like one of those days, any one of the meditation exercises mentioned above is well worth your investment. You can practise anywhere; at your desk, on your break, walking around the office, or even on your commute. These exercises will leave you feeling more motivated, more creative and more energised to focus on whatever it is that requires your attention.