I’ve been given a lot of thought to the development and understanding, not of others but my own self for forever it seems. My days are packed and filled with meetings, conference calls and a sea of emails. It’s hard during the workday where I can even find a moment to myself let alone think about mindfulness or even self-care. When I do find myself a free hour or two without the grind of calls and meetings, those minutes are filled checking my social media, listening to music or running errands and driving from meeting to play date.
I’m a maximizer. From the moment I wake up at 5:30 AM, my day is full until I finally have a moment to sit down which is usually at 8:30 PM with forty-five minutes or so before I make the decision to crawl into bed and end my day.
This cram it all in lifestyle has been wearing on me. I sometimes feel like I can’t breathe. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling of anxiety which leads to insomnia and tiredness and more anxiety. I feel like I have no time left for me. And I can feel it in my work, in my passions, with my family, and my writing.
How Stress is Hurting Our Lives and Work
I know I am not alone with these feelings. It’s the American way. We take less vacation than anyone else in the world and business leaders are revered for working 120 and 130 hour days. Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults. A 2017 Attitudes in the Workplace Study found that 80% of workers feel stress on the job. And nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42% say their coworkers need such help too. We are in desperate need of training and resources in addition to permission from ourselves and our bosses to take a break.
For the longest time, I thought this feeling of being off was mine alone but I’ve learned that most of us at any given time feel a little lost and yet there’s this expectation of exuding perfection that we feel we need to be. This feeling of stress, anxiety, and anxiousness has a major impact on how we work with our collaborations, performance to our ability to juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities. I’m no longer willing to sacrifice my life, my health, and my work performance because I feel guilty taking time for me. There needs to be another way.
Enter in Workplace Meditation and Mindfulness
Over the years I have tried different tactics. I’ve outsourced my email and administrative responsibilities to a virtual assistant. I have taken a vacation from social media and Facebook. I’ve changed jobs, worked with coaches and even went to therapy. It hasn’t been enough. What I thought I needed was to be perfect, to get everything done and most importantly, more hours in the day.
In 2005 when I first began practicing yoga, I had a personal awakening and for a period of two years, I had a daily practice where I spent time focused on me and most importantly made time to get to know, recharge, refresh and work through my busy and hectic days. In 2005, I had the luxury. I was a single woman who was kid-less and had time to make time for me. I didn’t have the hectic work schedule I do now, the responsibility of being a parent, a spouse and the stress that comes with financial responsibility. While I acknowledge these reasons are excuses, they are my and maybe your reality. I have been treading in a sea of anxiousness, feeling overwhelmed and like I wasn’t doing enough. Something needed to change.
I began with simply committing to 10 minutes of mindfulness and reflection at the beginning or end of my day. I set my intentions, acknowledged my anxiety and just listened to myself. When I couldn’t shut off my mind, I just simply focused on my breathing. The results have been small but I am sleeping better, feeling less anxious and am more creative, focused and inspired. It’s the best therapy I could have possibly given myself and it was 100% free.
We Need to Teach Mindfulness and Stress Coping Skills at Work
If work is the biggest stressor in our lives and has immediate and real implications not only in terms of productivity but also employee health and wellbeing, I wondered why schools, institutions, and employers aren’t providing their students and employees with the skills to learn how to be more mindful and help manage stress in their lives.
The change doesn’t have to be a big one but it has to be a purposeful and intentional one to really drive behavioral and personal change. That behavioral change helps when we as people have a gentle nudge from our co-workers, friends, boss and workplace. Practicing mindfulness at work could be as simple as tapping into fitness wearables and Apple watches the majority of your employees are already wearing and encouraging employees to simple breath for a minute in their offices, cars, and cubicles. Employers can use existing employee recognition programs or invest in a manager meditation and mindful program for managers or a small group of employee ambassadors to encourage a mindfulness practice across an office, department or company.
Mindfulness As a Jumping Off Point to Employee Health and Well-Being
Mindfulness and reducing stress are just as important if not more so than encouraging employees to complete their personal benefits assessment. It’s a small change that might be more important or achievable than getting every employee to participate in a step challenge. We all have at least a minute to breathe and be mindful of ourselves. We deserve that, and it’s a behavior that has life-long benefits.
A few weeks ago, I picked up a book called 9 Secrets of Successful Meditation by Dr. Sarasad Vinod which I recommend. I’m expanding beyond my 10 minutes and making a commitment to practice at least 30 minutes of meditation and mindfulness a day. While I don’t think I’ll ever be a guru, I am working towards investing in more self-care and being intentional in my time whether it’s for work or personal reasons. I think ourselves and our employees deserve that much. We need to invest more in ourselves because we are always worrying and tending to others’ gardens forgetting our own. Let’s change that.
A version of this was first posted on workology.com
Jessica Miller-Merrell, is workplace change agent focused on human resources and talent acquisition. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer. She’s the founder of Workology, formerly Blogging4Jobs. Follow her on Twitter, @jmillermerrell.