Some of us love our jobs; some of us like our jobs; and some of us may feel dread at the thought of going to work each morning. In any case, most of us have felt stress at work. In fact, job stress affects at least 70 percent of Americans, according to the 2012 report from the American Psychological Association, Stress in America: Our Health at Risk.
Whether job stress stems from demanding clients, competitive coworkers, a difficult-to-please boss or boredom, it’s possible to gain clarity, wisdom and strength from these obstacles. Happiness at work is not just about feeling happy—it is about approaching every moment with mindfulness.
While we can’t change our coworkers, bosses or (usually) salaries, we can learn to benefit from the myriad difficulties we face at work by recognizing them as unique opportunities to cultivate awareness, compassion, patience and ingenuity. Mindfulness practices such as meditation allow us to reimagine how we approach our jobs, opening our eyes to our present experience with a greater sense of balance and resilience.
Luckily, meditation can go anywhere. Just think: You can relieve stress while sipping a bottle of water, walking to the restroom, or even chatting with a coworker. All that’s necessary to meditate at work is one very portable tool: your breath.
These simple meditation exercises will help you realize the power of mindfulness and set you off on the pathway toward greater happiness at work.
1. Really listen
As you set up your session room or sit down at a meeting, devote just a few minutes to listening to the sounds around you. Perhaps someone nearby is typing audibly, or a computer is softly humming. Breathe in and out, noticing these sounds, and then focus on your reactions to them. Mindfully listening is an experience that provides us a vibrant, open space where our creativity has room to arise, and where we allow ourselves to break out of the well-worn grooves of habit.
2. Be kind
At some point during your workday, consciously perform a simple act of kindness for another individual. You can do something as simple as saying thank you authentically and sincerely, or choosing to listen to someone in a meeting with a clear and focused mind.
3. Consider your words and actions
Before the start of a meeting or phone call, spend a few quiet minutes simply breathing, and allow your mind to explore how you would like to be perceived by others at the conclusion of your meeting or call. Would you like to come across as aggressive? Assertive? Generous? Inclusive? Open-minded? Stubborn? The possibilities are endless. Consider how you feel when you perceive others that way.
4. Practice self-care
In a stressful environment, it can be easy to take our frustration out on ourselves. But practicing self-care—even in small ways—is essential for boosting your productivity as well as your health. While you work, notice if your shoulders are tense and rising up to your ears. Take a few minutes to breathe, relax them and do a few stretches. Or notice how you are holding something—whether it be your steering wheel, coffee cup or pen. If you find your knuckles whitening from tension, consciously loosen your grip: Exerting too much force is unnecessary and will exacerbate tension throughout your body.
5. Take time to send off an email
The convenience of emails sometimes makes us write them a bit too quickly and casually. So instead of immediately firing off every email you write, take three full breaths in and out. Then reread the email twice, and imagine being its recipient. Reword elements if you wish to come across differently. Then click the send button.
Defuse job stress
You can return to a state of mindfulness, focusing on your breath, anytime you feel stressed during the workday. Make mindfulness a habit, and you will feel the difference in your overall stress level and sense of inner peace.
Sharon Salzberg (www.sharonsalzberg.com) is the author of Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace (2013), the follow-up to her New York Times best-seller Real Happiness. An active speaker and teacher, she is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and spent several years as a contributing editor of O Magazine.