A 2000 Gallup Poll found that 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half of them say they need help in learning how to manage their stress. A 1992 UN report called Job Stress the 20th Century Epidemic. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that stress is fast becoming the most prevalent reason for worker disability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that "neurotic reaction to stress" is the 4th disabling workplace injury and over 25 days in 1993 were lost on average by each person suffering from job stress. While most businesses have no idea what the cost of stress is to their overall operations, a 1990 study by Foster Higgins & Co. found that health benefits cost the average company 45% of its after-tax profits with research implicating stress in 60% to 90% of medical problems. Given what is currently happening in our culture politically and economically, it doesn't seem like our jobs will be stress-free any time soon. Chronic stress has serious health risks associated with it such as heart disease. The five tips I offer here, are part of what we teach in our Corporate Wellness program, and can help you use mindfulness awareness to reduce your stress at work. If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, we offer a four-part Primer Series at the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago that can help you learn and practice mindfulness meditation.
1. Be Proactive There are many external circumstances over which you have no control. For instance, you can't control the weather. Many people spend a great deal of emotional energy worrying and ruminating over external events for which they have no control. When you do this continually, these things begin to consume you. Mindfulness can help you shift your awareness back to the present. When you are present in this way, you can then learn to direct your energy towards those areas of your life where you can have a positive impact. When you spend more of your emotional energy on these things you can control, you will experience less stress, more satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Stephen Covey calls this working in your "circle of influence". When you spend more time here, you begin to live a more effective, Zen-inspired life of openness, empathy and clarity.
2. Listen to Your Body The world we presently live in is changing rapidly and is very complex. Everyday you are subjected to stimulation from media, T.V., radio, computers, cell phones, bill boards, and advertisements. This over-stimulation can easily lead to a dis-embodied experience that produces stress, anxiety and constant worry, because when you are suffering, you tend to spin off in your head. When you try to fix the problem by thinking about it you often aggravate the existing condition and make the level of stress worse. Mindfulness can help you relax and approach your suffering through an embodied awareness that is sensitive to your body's sensations and messages. The body is a source of much wisdom and healing, so when you learn to be more sensitive to your own body, you can receive valuable information and feedback about your stress. Staying connected to your body through mindful awareness can help you short-circuit many of the mechanisms which, if left unchecked, lead to run-away chronic stress.
3. Breath You can easily become lost in the complexity and speed of the world around you. Through minfulness, you can again begin to reclaim your whole self, first by acknowleding and honoring the needs of your body for good nutrition, exercise, rest, sleep and the deep restorative silence of meditation. When you are feeling anxious or stressed-out, try taking some deep breathes. Breathing deeply actually bring more oxygen to your brain. If you gently focus on your out-breath you are also lighting up a part of your autonomic nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system that helps you calm down and be more grounded and at peace with yourself.
4. Slow Down with a "Mindfulness Bell" You can easily be carried away by the speed of your work environment. There are always deadlines to meet. But if you get caught up in always working in a "crisis" mode, this obsessive, driven energy can lead to burn-out. It's alright to do this sometimes, like a runner sprinting at the end of a race, but not all the time. Mindfulness can help you bring some balance by regulating your energy flow. Use any signals from your environment, such as the ringing of a telephone, or the beep of an incoming email, as an opportunity to pause. When you hear this sound, just pause for a few seconds or a minute. This is simple and easy to do. You just need to have the intention to do it. If you do this regularly throughout the day, you are introducing a powerful reminder to pause and rest, which can bring order, balance and stability to your busy, complex and speedy workplace environment.
5. Listen Deeply Much of the time, we don't listen well to others. When we are attached to our agenda and a particular outcome, it is very difficult to listen to others. If a disagreement arises, we tend to rehearse what we are going to say as the other person is talking. This means we really don't listen well to them at all, and this often leads to misunderstandings. Ask any person who works in human resources what is one of the major causes of stress on the job and they'll tell you, it's interpersonal disagreements. Learning to listen deeply and empathically to those we work with can reduce stress significantly. It can also nurture trust that helps us work together more effectively and efficiently. Mindfulness can help us learn how to do this by increasing our awareness of the present and opening us to the process of how we communicate with others. When empathy is present in our awareness and in our listening, safety and stability increase in our working environment and this can be a major source for enhancing and enriching our working experience for ourselves and others.
These are five tips for reducing stress in the workplace. I hope they are helpful. I welcome you comments and feedback. I would be very interested in knowing what helps you reduce stress on your job. If you currently do not have a mindfulness meditation practice, consider taking class at our Zen Center, or having us present our Corporate Wellness program at your place of work.