Practice mindfulness
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How to practise mindfulness at work

20 Feb 2017

Employees are more reachable than ever, making them less likely to switch off from work. Mindfulness has never been more important.

Employees are working longer than ever. Last year, Morgan McKinley’s working hours survey found that almost three-quarters of Irish employees work more than their contracted hours.

Aside from longer working hours, technology has made us more reachable than ever.

This has led to a lot of debate around the concept of work-life balance. You’re supposed to work to live, not live to work, so how can you make sure you can switch off?

Mindfulness is described as a moment-to-moment awareness of your feelings, thoughts and sensations. Can you sit still and empty your mind for five whole minutes? It’s harder than you think.

When people think of mindfulness, they might think of blocking off 30 minutes in their day to sit cross-legged on their bed and meditate. Those same people are probably thinking, ‘I don’t have time for that, I’m too busy’.

But mindfulness can be practised at any time of the day doesn’t need to take more than 10 minutes. In fact, if you want to use mindfulness to help you switch off your work brain and reduce stress in the office, your desk is the best place to start practising.

Before work

How often do you wake up with thoughts of the day ahead and the mile-long list of things you need to get done? These morning thoughts trigger your stress levels easily so this is the first place you’ll need to start.

When your alarm goes off, take two minutes to lie in bed awake and focus on your breathing. Spend those minutes actively noticing your breathing and concentrate on it every time you feel your mind wander elsewhere.

When you arrive

If you drive to work, take a few minutes in your car to put your phone on silent, switch off the engine and just sit. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing again for a few minutes. Be present and aware of your surroundings, your feelings and your senses. If you use public transport, spend the last five or 10 minutes of your journey doing this.

If you walk to work, use that time to be present. You might not want to walk the whole way in without music or your radio, so switch it off five minutes before you arrive. Take that time to observe your surroundings and focus your mind on exactly that.

At any stage that you feel your mind wandering to other things, such as that expenses report, the client meeting that day or even what you might make for dinner that evening, bring your mind back to your breathing.

Throughout the day

If you find yourself getting distracted, hitting a productivity wall or losing focus in a sea of procrastination web pages, it’s time for a mini meditation moment.

You don’t need to close your eyes at your desk for 10 minutes, you simply need to take a few minutes to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, breathing and surroundings.

Even one minute of mindfulness can calm and focus the mind, and can be particularly helpful in rescuing you from very stressful thoughts or situations.

The process of focusing your mind on your breathing and body relaxes the nervous system and tones down your stress responses.

During lunch

This might be one of the toughest ones to put into practice. How often do you take your full hour of lunch away from your desk?

Eating should not be a mindless task, and skipping your lunch or working through it can actually make you less productive in the afternoon.

Even if you don’t feel the need to spare yourself the full hour from your desk, take your food away, don’t rush eating and relax for at least 30 minutes while you eat.

This will not only keep your stress levels at bay, but it will help you slow down your eating habits and ensure you enjoy your food more.

At the end of the day

The most important part of the end of your work day is to take some inspiration from Frozen and ‘let it go’.

You may think that ‘offloading’ your workday grievances will clear them from your mind. In reality, continuing to think or talk about work after you’ve left is counterproductive.

It will affect your quality of sleep, eat into your unwinding time and lower your energy levels for the next day.

Letting your work day go can be the hardest part of mindfulness because your head is probably full of so many thoughts from the day. It might require a longer period of mindfulness, but you can still incorporate it into your daily routine.

Once again, dedicate as much of your commute – be it in your car, on public transport or walking – to mindful thoughts. Make yourself present and aware for as long as possible. If you’re going to the shops on the way home, be aware of the sounds around you.

You don’t have to block-book mindfulness into your day, especially if that will lead to you skipping it altogether. Simply make yourself aware of your breathing regularly throughout the day for one, two or five minutes to lower your stress levels.

And if you can spare those extra 10 minutes when you get home to sit cross-legged on the bed with your eyes closed, all the better.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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