how mindfulness helps with worrying + anxiety at work (and 5 tips to help you achieve it)
Staying on track at work can sometimes seem like a monumental task. Faced with a busy workload, your mind can fill with worries and anxieties – about how stressful work is, about the items on your never-ending To Do list, about challenging conversations with colleagues, and even about the mountain of emails you receive each day. Of course, this doesn’t take into account things outside of work that consume your thoughts – including relationships, friendships, finances, social events, social media, perhaps even children or elderly parents to care for, or even the daily hassles that build up during the day (what’s for dinner!!!). Is it any wonder that modern life causes you stress? Understandably, having all of these tasks on your mind can affect your ability to focus, but what is the solution when we seem to be drowning in workplace anxieties?
Mindfulness is the buzzword in the workplace, touted as a cure-all for whatever ails you. So can mindfulness really help with worry and anxiety at work? More on that later, but first let's look a bit closer at the wandering mind.
When your mind wanders at work
Has this ever happened to you? You're at work trying to write a report, but it's hard to concentrate because your thoughts start to drift.
Your thoughts drift to the future where you focus on how impossible it is to finish this report as there's not enough time, or where you catastrophise about losing your job due to your report. Of course, these thoughts are interrupted by what you have to do after work, including what you'll have for dinner, or who you have to call tonight.
Your thoughts can also drift to the past where you think back to challenging conversations that you had, past errors you've made in your work. Some of these past memories - at work and in your personal life - can end up triggering distress.
Interestingly, we are so often living in the past and future that we are hardly ever in the present moment!
Frequently thinking about the past (or ruminating) can lead to low mood and depression. Frequently thinking about the future (or worrying) can lead to stress and anxiety.
Why does your mind wander?
From a survival perspective, a wandering mind can be of value. Being able to recall the past means we can learn from mistakes when it comes to planning to do things differently in the future - such as learning not to run towards an animal that's charging towards you, of steering clear of the edge of the cliff.
The challenge is that stress in our modern world tend to be perceived as survival issues (e.g. recalling an embarrassing conversation) and sometimes it kicks into overdrive (e.g. having that embarrassing conversation replaying on a loop!).
What is the impact of worrying at work?
Having a mind that wanders constantly into the past or future can be very draining. Anxiety is a high-energy emotion that can lead to fatigue, which is a symptom of depression. One way to restore our energy levels lies in being in the present moment, and for that we turn to mindfulness.
How does mindfulness actually help with anxiety and worrying at work?
What does research tell us about the effectiveness of mindfulness? Well it's been found to improve concentration and mental clarity, improve working memory, increase self-control, and enhance kindness and compassion towards others.  These will no doubt come in handy for productivity and harmonious interactions at work.
Mindfulness has also been shown to help with stress levels ; furthermore focusing on what your senses are feeding you can lead to increased levels of happiness and satisfaction (like taking in the scenery while on holiday, or savouring flavours in your mouth when you eat a favourite food).
Have we piqued your interest? Try our 5 tips on how to practice mindfulness at work.
5 tips on how to practice mindfulness at work
When we talk about being mindful at work, we mean being present and engaging with any number of our five senses. While our senses are always working, we often don't notice them at work because our minds are stuck in the past or future. So, to get more in tune with the present moment try the following:
- Taking in what you SEE
- Noticing your TOUCH, or what you feel against your skin
- Being aware of what you SMELL
- Noticing what you TASTE in your mouth, and
- Focusing on what your HEAR
Let's look at how we can apply these at work in a more practical manner:
1. Name things you can see, or trace their outline with your eyes. Rather than labelling objects at a glance (e.g. "That's a chair, that's my desk"), pay close attention to the lines of the objects, the colours, how light falls on the objects, and so on.
2. Focus on your breathing when you're at your desk. You've never stopped breathing, but you may not notice that you're actually breathing. Focus on what your body feels when you breathe in and out - from drawing the air in through your nostrils, to your chest and diaphragm expanding then deflating, followed by the breath passing out through your nostrils again.
3. Perform a familiar task like it's your very first time doing so. Auto-pilot often kicks in once we've performed a task many times over, so take a novice's perspective and try performing the task like it's your first time. In doing so, you'll have heightened awareness of what your senses are feeding you. Some great examples of these include typing an email or making a coffee.
4. Pay attention when you're eating (also called mindful eating) during your lunch break. This could be looking at the colours of your food, noticing the smell of it, savouring the taste, and noticing the change in its texture while you're chewing it. A bonus of this technique is that it can help to decrease emotional eating resulting from stress at work.
5. Being mindful when walking throughout the day, be it to the printer or on your way to get a coffee. We're talking about focusing on the movement of your legs, the pacing of your stride - even the sound of your shoes as you walk.
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 Davis, D.M., & Hayes, J.A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy related research. Psychotherapy, 48, 198-208.
 Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003) The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.