6 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with work stress

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Lauren Geall
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We’re all busy these days – but our careers and side hustles shouldn’t have to get in the way of our self-care routine. Here, we break down a couple of simple mindfulness techniques that can be slotted into your daily routine. 

Mindfulness is a bit like marmite. While there are those people who absolutely swear by it – and want everyone to know about their latest month-long meditation retreat – for others, the word itself provokes a series of sarcastic eyerolls and deep, judgemental sighs.

Of course, everyone’s entitled to their opinion – for some people, the idea of sitting in a dark room and meditating for an hour just isn’t going to cut it – but what if I told you that mindfulness doesn’t always have to be so… complicated?

Defined as “training present moment awareness and compassion both for yourself and others,” by the meditation app Headspace, mindfulness essentially requires us to tune back in to our senses and be more aware of what’s happening in the moment. 

And doing some meditation is only one of the ways you can practice it; mindfulness can actually be as easy as walking down the street and taking deep breaths. It’s dead simple. 

A workspace
Feeling bogged down by work? Try these simple mindfulness techniques to relieve stress.

Now what if I told you that the practice of mindfulness – including those simple techniques we looked at above – could provide an effective and healthy way to deal with the day-to-day workplace stress that we all experience? According to a 2018 study conducted by Headspace, using a meditation app to practice mindfulness resulted in a 14% decrease in stress levels after just 10 days – and a 32% decrease after 30 days.

As the conversation surrounding the impact of chronic workplace stress – including the development of burnout – continues to grow, it’s more important than ever that we have a few stress-busting tools under our belt to help us handle our stress levels rather than pushing our feelings down and refusing to deal with them.

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With all of this considered, we asked Dr Megan Jones Bell, chief science officer at Headspace, to break down some simple ways we can introduce mindfulness into our busy daily routines.  

1. Set a good morning routine

We all know how important our morning routines can be when it comes to setting ourselves up for the day ahead, so why not make the most of that time by being mindful?

“I would suggest starting your day with a routine that “anchors” you in,” explains Dr Jones Bell. “It could be taking a mindful walk, which is really easy to integrate into your routine, as we’re usually walking as part of our routine.”

A woman walking on her commute
Posture correctors: Monica advises us to move little and often throughout the day

To complete a mindful walk, simply practice being aware of the world going on around you. What sounds can you hear? How do your feet feel on the ground? What thoughts pass through your head? Checking in with yourself in this simple way may seem silly at first, but it can actually make a big difference.

You could also incorporate a mindful walk into your lunch break to double up on your mindfulness time.

2. Add in some quick eyes-closed meditation

If you can carve out some time in your busy routine, it’s a great idea to sit down and spend a little time really laying the foundation for your day by practising some eyes-closed meditation.

“Practising eyes-closed meditation in the morning can help you start your day with more awareness,” Dr Jones Bell explains. “It then makes it a lot easier for you, as you pop between meetings or do different tasks throughout the day, to remember that mindful mindset, because you’ve already done it in the morning.”

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If you don’t have a spare 15 minutes to play with in the morning (we all know how rushed it can be), why not have a go at practicing mindfulness on the train or bus? As long as you have a seat, you can plug in a meditation app and spend five or 10 minutes listening to the guided practice.

3. Periodically focus on your breathing

It’s surprising how powerful our breathing can be when we actually tune into it – especially when we’re feeling particularly stressed or agitated. In this way, taking the time to check in with our breath throughout the day could be a great way to keep on top of how stressed we’re feeling and what we need to do to address that.

“Really work on being present in whatever you’re doing,” says Dr Jones Bell. “It might be as simple as when you transition from one thing to the next that you take a deep breath, or simply count your breaths. 

A woman at work
Focusing on your breathing is a great way to practice mindfulness wherever you are.

“Your breath is one of the most helpful anchors for your attention… when you shut a door, take a deep breath and count to three, for example.”

If you’re short on time, focusing on how you’re breathing is such a simple thing to implement, because you can do it pretty much anytime, anywhere, for however long you have. Even if you’re in an important meeting – which we all know can be quite stressful – focusing on your breathing and making sure to take regular deep breaths can be a great way to stay grounded if you feel your anxiety levels rising.

4. Get away from the screen

This one might seem obvious (after all, how many times have we been warned about the impact technology – specifically social media – has on our mental health?) but sitting in front of a computer screen actually makes us less aware of the present moment, making it easy to get stuck in our heads and obsess over our stressors.

“After 30 minutes of looking at your computer screen, set a timer and get up and take a walk,” says Dr Jones Bell. “As you’re walking, pay attention to the way your feet feel on the ground. It’s very, very simple routines like this that help people layer mindfulness into every day moments.”

5. Have a chat

When we’re feeling stressed, it can be tempting to escape the constraints of the office and spend our lunch breaks hidden in the corner of a nearby coffee shop scrolling through Twitter – but it turns out that’s not the best mindfulness practice.

Women having lunch together
Put technology aside during your lunch breaks and spend some quality time with friends.

“Try to put technology aside during your lunch breaks,” Dr Jones Bell advises. “Lunch breaks are a great time to invest in social connections. Social connections are another thing that are stress buffering, and protective factors – they directly counter your risk for burnout and mental health problems.”

In another branch of the same tree, going out for dinner with your friends after work can be a great way to de-stress and spend some being present. It’s all in the name of self-care, remember!

6. Just eat (no, not the app)

While at first mindful eating might sound like another eye-roll wellbeing buzzword, it’s actually another great way to ground ourselves and get out of our heads for a moment.

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“Just eat and not multitask, that’s another great thing you can do,” Dr Jones Bell explains. “Apply mindfulness to eating through mindful eating techniques, so before you dig into your lunch, just take a few minutes to look at it, observe the colours, think about where the food came from and focus on the tastes and smells.”

She continues: “That might be something you do as kind of a one-minute routine before you dig in, or it might be something that you’re able to do the entire time you’re eating. But I think to start, just taking a moment to pause and take a breath before you starting eating could be an easy first step.”

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Lauren Geall

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. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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