Office Meditation: Hitting Pause on Workplace Stress

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Here's a not-shocking piece of information about workplace stress: It affects your health. In fact, according to a research from Harvard Business School faculty, job insecurity increases your odds of reporting poor health by 50 percent, those with high job demands are 35 percent more likely to have a physician-diagnosed illness and long work hours raise mortality by almost 20 percent. Stressful work environments and work-related situations can take just as much toll on your body as on your mind, but you can do something about it.

Weave meditation practices into your workday to relieve some of the pressures of work-related stress. Meditating at work might seem foreign and awkward, but it doesn't have to be. Plus, it can work wonders for your mental and physical health – not to mention your productivity levels.

Find the Right Materials

If you're not sure where to start with your meditation practice, hit the books (figuratively). There are countless meditation methods out there, so it's important to try a few until you find what's right for you. Consider starting with one of these guides, most of which were suggested by David Allan in his 2014 BBC piece on workplace meditation:

  • Headspace: This one's an app, and ideal for beginners. An audio guide walks you through 10-minute meditations to train in awareness and gain new perspectives. Just find a comfy seat, pop in your headphones and let it happen. The first 10 days are free.
  • "The Miracle of Mindfulness": If you'd rather try a book, pick up this one by Thich Nhat Hahn, a pacifist Buddhist monk. This volume includes a whole chapter of meditations, and some are as short as 10 breaths long.
  • "One Moment Meditation": Martin Boroson authored this book with the idea that all you need for mindfulness is one minute. This work teaches you to optimize and mobilize that minute, so you can take advantage of it wherever you go.
  • "Stop, Breathe & Think": This is another app, with a list of meditations aimed to sync with your emotions or activities. Choose a mindful breathing meditation, which ranges from three to 20 minutes, or a body scan, which takes between eight and 17 minutes. You might also choose the four-minute mindful walk or the six-minute compassion meditation.

Seek Out a Time and Place

Where in (or around) your office could you slip away for a few minutes to practice your meditation? You preferably want a room without too many windows – you don't want to feel like a fish in a glass bowl. It should be quiet and comfortable, and free of stressors and urgent responsibilities. If there's a library or conference room in your office that might meet your needs, take advantage of it (and let your office manager know ahead of time, if necessary). Perhaps there's a peaceful park nearby, or a quiet coffee shop. Find the space that suits you best.

Once you know where you'll meditate, it's time to make a plan for when. Carve out a regular time each day that's reserved specifically for your meditation practice. In his BBC article, Allan suggested booking a full half-hour each day, even if you'll probably never use all of it. Whatever work you have to do can wait another 10-15 minutes for the sake of your health.

Reap the Benefits

Study after study has found that mindfulness has positive effects on physical and mental health, plus productivity. One study found that meditation improves anxiety and mood symptoms, especially for those with anxiety and mood disorders. Another study, this one from the University of Washington, observed that those trained in mindful meditation stayed on-task for longer periods of time, made fewer switches between tasks and felt more positive emotions after completing their tasks. In fact, Mayo Clinic reports that meditation has been shown to help manage symptoms from chronic pain, depression, high blood pressure, sleep problems and tension headaches, along with serious physical illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.

If you're looking for a way to manage the stress of your job without having to make major life changes, meditation might be the answer. It can help you build stress management skills, increase self-awareness, gain new perspective, focus on the present, reduce negative emotions and increase creativity, patience and productivity.