No matter your job description, place of work or day-to-day responsibilities, everyone encounters some kind of work-related stress.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing – in some circumstances, stress can be good for us – but if it’s not managed properly or left to build up, it can contribute to poor mental health and lead to a state of burnout.
With this in mind, knowing how to manage work-related stress, and checking in with yourself and your stress levels on a regular basis, is really valuable. You don’t need to be hyper-aware of everything that’s going on, but being able to recognise when you’re feeling stressed out, and having a toolkit of stress-relieving activities, exercises and techniques under your belt, can help you to look after yourself and feel more in control of how you’re feeling.
One such activity which could help you both to recognise when you’re feeling stressed and relieve some of that tension is practising mindfulness. There’s a reason why so many mental health experts go on and on about the benefits of mindfulness practice – not only can it help you to pause and take a moment to yourself, but it’s also been proven to help reduce stress, manage difficult emotions and cope with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
And the best bit? It’s something you can do anywhere, anytime without any equipment, so it’s a great stress-relieving activity to squeeze into your breaks.
“By becoming more aware of how stress, anxiety or worry appears in our thoughts and bodily sensations we can observe them and accept these are normal and understandable experiences,” explains Eve Lewis Prieto, director of meditation at the mindfulness app, Headspace. “Using our breath as an anchor, we can feel connected to the present moment, unwind, reset and step away from the worried mind.”
Although one way to practice mindfulness is to do some mindfulness meditation, there are also plenty of other ways to introduce mindfulness into your day-to-day routine, so you’re sure to find a method which works for you.
To get you started, we asked Lewis Prieto and her colleague Sarah Romotsky, RD and director of healthcare partnerships at Headspace, for two easy mindfulness exercises you can use to relieve stress during your working day. From a traditional mindfulness meditation to a ‘mindful walk’, here’s what they had to say.
Eve’s six-step mindfulness meditation
“Here is a short meditation exercise to help you calm your inner chatter, be present and find a place of quiet confidence. Meditation helps you to step out of the business in the mind so you can be in a state of readiness and flow.”
- “Either sitting or standing, eyes open or closed, but not looking at any particular thing, start by taking big deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose, focusing on the sensation of the body filling with air; as you breathe out through your mouth, feel your muscles soften and the body relax as it lets go.”
- “Focus on your points of contact. Notice the distribution of weight, and find a place of balance where you feel grounded and centred. Take in the sounds around you, not blocking them out.”
- “Bring attention back to the body, noticing that readiness, ease, and flow. Start at the top of the head and work your way down towards the toes, gently, evenly scanning. Centre your body and mind on that point of focus as you travel down through the body.”
- “As you become more aware of the physical sensations, notice how your body is breathing. Are your breaths long, short, deep or shallow?”
- “Allow your thoughts to come and go, and every time you get distracted come back to your breath as a place of focus.”
- “Stay right here in this moment, not focusing on the future or the past. Maintaining this awareness as you begin to feel an increasing sense of readiness in both the body and the mind, helping you to be present, aware, and ready to perform.”
Sarah’s mindful walking technique
“You can incorporate mindfulness into your daily life through a mindful walk. This is the perfect occasion to exercise both your body and mind together, no matter how long you’re on the move for or where you’re headed. A walk can help you find positivity through connecting with nature, and incorporating mindfulness enables you to step away, reset, refresh, and be present in the moment, preventing your mind from being distracted by stressful and unwanted thoughts.
“A mindful walk doesn’t mean you’re walking around on autopilot with your eyes closed. Instead, you are walking using a meditative technique, with eyes wide open, at a pace that suits you, with your attention on the environment around you.
“Whether you’re taking a walk at home, in the countryside or in the city, take in all the sights, sounds and smells of your immediate setting, particularly those you would not normally notice.
“While walking around any of these spaces, be sure to check in with your body and how it feels. Is it heavy or light, stiff or relaxed and how are you carrying yourself? Contemplate the sensation of movement in the body: how your arms hang or swing by your side or how the weight steadily shifts from right to left.
“Observe your stride, your pace, and the rhythm you’re creating with each step. Use that rhythm — the soles of the feet touching the ground — as your base of awareness, a place you can mentally come back to when the mind wanders off. Instead of the object of focus being your breath, as you would do with a sitting meditation, your focus should be the rhythm of your gait. This can help redirect your mind to familiarise yourself with the present moment.”
If working from home during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.
So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.
Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.
For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.