Making mindfulness work at work (and everywhere else)

If you’ve heard a lot about the wonders of mindfulness, but still haven’t quite captured its magic for yourself yet, this may be the nudge you need. You can take meaningful steps toward mindfulness by the end of this article, prior to lunch, or before answering another email.
 
Take a second to pause, get a nice deep breath and read that again; you can begin being more mindful right now. And when you do, your mind, body and spirit will thank you — in really tangible ways.
 
You can also do something good for yourself and your career by attending WFF’s new Leadership Development Workshops, Renewed Purpose. Renewed You. launching in September streaming live and in-person in select locations.
 
Cut through the clutter
Mindfulness is like a Marie Kondo intervention for the brain, body and soul. It can help you declutter all the stress and noise that comes from a demanding job in uncertain times, media overload, workplace conflict, family obligations, poor nutrition, multitasking and all the challenges of modern life.
 
The hyper arousal those stresses create has significant biological and mental health consequences. They include higher blood sugar levels that can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes, increased heart rate, faster respiration, poor digestion, sweating, difficulty focusing and learning, less effective memory and narrowed perception to name just a few.
 
Some ebb and flow between aroused and relaxed states is perfectly normal. But many of us have lost our body’s ability to manage the intense chemical and hormonal responses caused by stress, and then reset to a place of recuperation and resilience.
 
“Eventually you can get so accustomed to that stress feeling that it feels normal to you,” says Certified Wellness Coach, Registered Dietitian and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) instructor, Meridan Zerner. She will lead Fit to Thrive sessions during the upcoming Leadership Development Workshops focused on Supporting Your Best Self and Feeding Your Mind and Body.
 
“Ongoing stress can wreak havoc in your body and simply getting accustomed to it is harmful. But it is within your power to develop skills that foster a different mindset and drive a different physiological response,” Zerner explains.
Just this
Mindfulness can feel so simple yet hard to pin down. Basically, it means slowing down and paying attention on purpose to this very moment in a nonjudgmental way. The founder of the technique, Jon Kabat Zinn, Ph.D., developed it years ago as a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to help chronically ill patients. Those who practiced his mindfulness techniques learned to observe their health challenges in intentional and non-judgmental ways and experienced better treatment outcomes than those who did not.
 
The benefits
Mindfulness practices have been shown to literally change brain chemistry in health-promoting ways. Even if your natural disposition is one of worry or pessimism, mindfulness practices can help you shift to more productive and helpful ways of managing challenging situations.
 
The techniques lead to better concentration and more focused attention; a greater ability to track sensory experiences moment by moment; and a sense of equanimity or ability to approach an experience with a gentle, matter-of-fact attitude. At work, that might mean thinking twice before sending an email, intentional breathing while waiting for a Zoom call to start or focusing only on a conference call in the moment rather than multi-tasking.
 
Mindfulness triggers the relaxation response, the opposite of fight, flight and stress. “We’re not going to completely clear the mind and find total stillness all the time,” Zerner cautions. “But we can gently guide the wandering mind back to calm and allow for that process of deep breathing and being in the moment that can provide such meaningful health benefits.” 
 
Take it down a notch
Zerner urges scheduling mindful, stress-reducing activities, such as a quiet stroll, massage or just sitting outside for ten minutes every day. “You should be able to look at your calendar and see those therapeutic contributions on your schedule,” she advises. More than anything, she says choose something, whatever works for you to “take things down a notch,” and practice it regularly. Here are some ideas for how.
  • Use the STOP acronym. In the middle of stress and chaos, Stop. Take a breath. Observe your thoughts and feelings. Pause and proceed mindfully. Research from the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center shows the pause alone will help lower the stress response.
  • Connect with nature. A few minutes in your backyard or a short walk in a park help.
  • Recite positive affirmations with messages such as “I am enough,” “My mistakes help me learn and grow,” and “I get better every day.” Over time, your brain and body will recognize these messages as calming and reduce stress in response.  
  • Try a guided meditation with a free app such as Calm, Headspace or 10% Happier.
  • Listen to calming music using an app like Insight Timer.
  • Engage in an enjoyable creative outlet such as coloring. 
  • Explore slow, mindful eating.
  • Consider the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise where you stop for a moment to observe five things you can see; four you can touch; three you can hear; two you can smell; and one you can taste to focus your mind, slow down and take notice.   
 
Before you move on to your next task, pause. Pick one technique and experience a moment of rejuvenating, stress-reducing, health-promoting mindfulness. Then REGISTER for the 2021 Leadership Development Workshops and focus on your personal and profes

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