Workplace stress can lead to a slew of health problems. Could meditation be an effective solution for you?
If you picture meditation, you likely think of a serene retreat, full of relaxation and measured breathing techniques. The great thing about meditation is that you don’t need to be at an isolated temple to find your Zen—and what’s even better is that doing a bit of meditation anywhere can help calm frazzled nerves and realign your thinking.
One place that always needs a bit of meditation is the workplace; with so many demands, projects, and back-to-back meetings, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed. When things are spiraling out of control, it’s tempting to either just give up or work until you burn out.
But if you decide to employ some meditation, you might find that you’ll have less stress and more energy to spend on your work.
Whether you’re in charge of your office’s health and wellness program or you’re an employee who wants to spearhead a new initiative, it’s worth looking into how meditation techniques can help manage stress in the workplace. Here’s how they can be incorporated, and why more offices should consider adopting the power of meditation.
Making Meditation Routine
No matter how much you love your job, there are going to be days when everything is stressing you out. Maybe you overslept, and now you’re running late; maybe you’ve already got a full workload, and your boss wants you to take on some extra responsibilities.
Whatever the case, the workplace is a common source of stress in our everyday lives, and that stress can seep over into our off-hours, making us feel like we can never wind down and relax. Since we’re encouraged always to be working—just think of how many emails you get in the evenings—it’s even harder to take a minute to unplug.
The effects of mental and emotional workplace stress can’t be understated. Carrying around anxiety weighs on your brain and your emotions, causing you to be distracted and much less productive. Plus, this psychological strain can manifest physical symptoms as well, including heart problems.
It can also lead to trouble sleeping, which in turn can lower your immune system, leaving you susceptible to sickness. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break out of, especially when the work keeps mounting and you can’t seem to find a few minutes for yourself.
That’s where meditation comes in. The practice has gotten a bit of a reputation as something for New Age followers that have hours to spend seated cross-legged on yoga mats, when in reality you can do it anytime, anywhere, and it only takes a few minutes.
A beginner’s meditation practice is simple to start, and it includes the essential steps of committing to just two minutes, picking a time and quiet, and sitting comfortably while you focus on your breathing.
All you need to do is keep your mind on your breathing for the two minutes, ignoring outside stimuli and getting your mind back on track as soon as it wanders. It takes some practice, so don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time with it right away—just reset yourself and keep focusing on how you breathe in and out.
This type of meditation is about teaching mindfulness and putting you in the moment by removing interruptions around you. Meditation can also teach you how to resist distractions and keep your mind steady, which is needed when you’re trying to deal with multiple work priorities at once.
As a bonus, you can easily take a few minutes in your workday—perhaps before lunch, or after you’ve arrived at the office—and find a quiet spot to practice your breathing.
How It Fits Into Corporate Health and Wellness
For those of you who handle health and wellness programs, it’s tempting to stop at the typical nutrition programs and gym-membership compensation, but much of these factors aren’t getting at the real interior problem plaguing the health of employees.
We’re talking about stress, and although eating right and exercising can help mitigate it, meditation can go a long way towards handling immediate stress and providing employees with valuable techniques to help them combat stress in the future.
Take this example from a piece by Reuters: A U.S. study examined a group of teachers and support staff working with children with behavioral problems and recommended that the staff practice 20 minutes of meditation every day, typically focusing on breathing techniques or repeating a sound or personal mantra.
The workers “reported feeling less stressed and more energetic within a few days” and upon finishing the four-month study, the participants felt less depressed and less emotionally exhausted. Plus, they were reportedly less stressed that those who didn’t participate in the study.
Although skeptics argue that wider research is needed to uncover the scientific merits of meditation, there’s little doubt that taking some time to tune out distractions can help a person re-focus on more important priorities.
Janice Marturano, Founder and Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, shared that meditation allows you to avoid working on “autopilot,” and that the connectivity required of modern-day offices “requires employees to be mentally present at most times—something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.” Learning simple meditation techniques can help employees develop mindfulness skills that help keep them in the moment.
Meditation’s benefits also squarely put it in line with the intentions of a company’s health and wellness policy; namely, it helps keep employees well. As mentioned earlier, stress can leave a person open to all kinds of physical illnesses—everything from heart attacks to increased chances of getting the cold or flu.
Being sick can lead to absences in the workplace, which puts more stress on the rest of the staff as well as costing workplaces extra money in health coverage. There’s the additional issue of weight gain due to stress, along with exhaustion from sleepless nights.
Incorporating meditation techniques—anything from occasional workshops to providing a “quiet room” for employees—might just be the future of health and wellness programs. It’s a wise idea to start now.
Meditate for Health
Employees of any level can benefit from learning and incorporating even the most simple of meditation practices. Taking a few minutes to clear one’s mind and focus on breathing rather than looming deadlines or paperwork can provide a cascading effect of wellness, from better productivity to additional energy.
It’s up to employers to decide if they want to make the workplace a meditation-friendly environment with quiet rooms and encouragement from a corporate wellness program. Given the fact that more employees are being relied upon to be “always on,” it’s a good idea to help give them even a couple of minutes to refocus and de-stress.
Cortney Berling is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Tri-City Medical Center: a full-service, acute-care hospital located in Oceanside, California. She received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics at The University of Cincinnati and completed her dietetic internship at The Cleveland Clinic.