mindfulness meditation

5 Mindfulness Tips for Reducing Stress at Work

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 ten week series of Foundations of Mindfulness classes 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 mindfulness, you can again begin to reclaim your whole self, first by acknowledging 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.

Robert Althouse

Change Your Life Style: Reduce Your Stress

Who among us doesn't experience stress from time to time? Papers stack up on your desk. Projects are awaiting your attention and deadlines keep coming at you. You feel overwhelmed. You've already had several cups of coffee, but now that doesn't seem to help. You just feel nervous and jittery. You can feel aches and pain in your body. You missed lunch yesterday and the night before you didn't sleep well. You're exhausted. There's no gas left in the tank. And you know when you get home, you're not going to have any energy for anything or anyone. Sound familiar? If it does, you might want to consider carving out some time in your day to take care of yourself and practice some simple mindfulness meditation. "How am I supposed to do that?" you say, "when there is so much to be done!" It doesn't seem possible. "I'm too nervous to sit still and my monkey mind is driving me nuts!"

So even though you've heard that meditation can help you, it doesn't seem possible. How are you going to slow down and actually do it? Getting started is not easy. So let's look at a few things mindfulness can do to address your stress, and then let's take a frank look at what it may take to actually make it a part of your life.

  • Learn to Relax. Rumination and negative self talk are very common in depression and anxiety disorders. Mindfulness practice can help reduce this harsh self-talk by helping you be more aware of it, and then gently letting it go by returning your attention to your breath. You find that this simple body-based awareness allows you to relax because your mind is not so actively occupied in constant evaluations and judgments. It's surprising that when you relax the mind in this way, you also relax the body and many of the aches and pains that come with being so wound up and constricted begin to ease and dissipate.
  • Learn to balance emotions. Mindfulness affects specific areas in the brain that help you regulate extreme emotions. When you are given to extreme emotional swings you become more reactive. Your perceptions become clouded by your moods, and you are likely to say and do things that upset people around you causing further stress. Mindfulness can help you balance your emotions and hold them with more softness and spaciousness. This helps you become more responsive to yourself and others, and contributes to a significant reduction in your stress.
  • Learn to Sleep Well. It's surprising how common it is for people to not get a good night's sleep, and how important this is in contributing to significant levels of stress and anxiety. When we do not sleep well, we feel exhausted and depleted the next day. Mindfulness meditation contributes to helping you sleep better and more soundly. Following an 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program, cancer patients reported reductions in sleep disturbance and increased sleep quality.

Can you see how these areas of relaxation, mental balance and sleep quality might help you address some of the stress in your life? If you are in agreement with me, at this point, you need to find a way to bring this kind of practice into your life. And there's the rub. You need to take a frank look at your life style and make some changes.

We live in a culture that is accustomed to quick fixes and pharmaceutical magic pills. These are fine if you want to apply a band aid, but if you want to address the root causes of your suffering, you're going to need to take a hard look at how you are living your life, and you're going to need to make some changes.

If your present life style doesn't include taking time for a relaxing lunch break, then you need to change that. If your present life style doesn't include getting a good nights sleep, then you need to change your life style. If your present life style doesn't include the possibility of being still in meditation on a regular basis,  you need to change that too. Changing your life style is not easy. We are all creatures of habit. We are surprising stubborn and resistant to changing our ways, even when we know they are contributing to our current stress and anxiety.

At the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago, you'll find a step-by-step core curriculum, designed to teach you how to practice mindfulness and how to make it a part of your daily life. You'll find a teaching of practices and principles that you can apply that will help you gradually change your life style. You'll learn how to live a Zen-inspired life style that takes time to be with yourself in a way that is restorative, relaxing and surprisingly satisfying on more levels than you can imagine.

I know this is not easy. That's why we have created this entry-level curriculum to take you step-by-step in gradually learning and mastering the practice of mindfulness meditation. Many who have already taken our course report remarkable changes in their levels of stress and anxiety. If they can do it, so can you!

Robert Althouse

10 Tips for Meditating at Home

Given the current political and economic climate in our country, some are again turning to meditation as a way to address increased  stress and uncertainty. You too can harvest these benefits for yourself, but there's only one catch. You have to do it. And you need to keep on doing it. If you've already tried to meditate, then you know that it's not necessarily so easy to do. Somehow, in your busy life, you never get around to finding the time. Not so long ago, someone came to learn to meditate because her mind was so busy it was driving her crazy. When I met her on that first day, she couldn't stop talking, and I could see that she was really suffering. She came to our Primer Series of four classes where we teach people how to do mindfulness meditation. She took up the regular practice of meditation and I have noticed a significant change in her. She is now more at home with herself and calmer. And for those of us around her, it's a joy to see her, because her  innate sense of humor and spunkiness has returned.

I've seen hundreds of people make serious transformations in their lives from practicing meditation, so I'd like to give you 10 tips to help you establish a meditation practice on your own. I hope you will find these helpful, and I do hope you will give meditation a chance because it's not necessarily a quick fix, so it may take some time before you begin to experience the benefits of this practice.

1. Set Aside a Meditation Space in Your Home If you have an extra room in your house or a corner in a room, try to set this aside as the space where you go to meditate. Keep it clean and orderly. As you continue to meditate some natural order and clarity will begin to arise and this will gently spread out from where you meditate and begin to organize the rest of your living space.

2. Use the Power of Ritual Ritual has the unconscious power to create a context that can encourage you to meditate. Ritual doesn't have to be religious. It can be very simple things, like burning a candle or incense. When you smell the incense, you body knows its time to meditate. If you are religious, you might use symbols of your faith to remind you of important teachings. You might want to create an altar in your meditation space. Again, there is no one way to do this. Make it something that resonates with you. Something beautiful from nature, a rock or a flower arrangement – perhaps a photo of a spiritual person who inspires you could be on the altar. Ritual can help put you in the mood, and give you permission to carve out the space and time for doing meditation practice regularly.

3. Unplug all the Gadgets I know this one might be difficult, but please give your self a moment of peace and quiet, free from your cell phone. Turn it off. If you have to answer the phone when it rings – unplug it. Turn of the TV and the radio. And by all means, turn off your computer.

4. Avoid other Interruptions If you have other family members or roommate in your home or apartment, explain to them that meditation is not so easy to do, and you need some uninterrupted time to do this practice. If they still don't understand why this is so important to you, explain to them, that they'll find you a more agreeable human being to be around after you've meditated. If you have kids, you may need to carve out times to meditate when your kids are asleep or not around.

5. Creating Structure can Help you Meditate Like ritual, structure can help you create a context that is more conducive to meditation. Many people find that having a regular meditation schedule is helpful. Since we are creatures of habit, you are creating a new, constructive habit in your life, and as you begin to do it regularly, it will get easier and eventually, you'll do it without thinking about it too much. This tends to be a more effective approach than just doing the meditation when you feel like it. This approach assures that you will get the meditation practice done. You don't have to like it. You just have to get it done.

6. Set a Fixed Time for Your Meditation Figure out what is a period of time you can sit still comfortably before you start getting restless. If it's 10 minutes, then commit to that time. Get a clock and make sure that you sit 10 minutes – not 4 or 8 or even 9, but 10 minutes. Resist the temptation to jump up because you are suddenly feeling restless or anxious about something. Sit through until the time is up. If you do this regularly, you are training yourself to approach difficulties with more confidence and resiliency.

7. Don't Create a Standard Any meditation you do is good. It doesn't matter what judgement you have about it. So don't compare what you are doing today with something that you did at some other time. Maybe the meditation you did last week seemed really great. Let it go. Don't use that to make a comparison to what your meditation is like today. Don't use that to create a standard by which you will now measure every meditation you do in the future.

8. Don't be Too Ambitious or Idealistic Don't try to do too much. If you try to meditate too long, and you're not ready for it, you'll simply get discouraged and quit. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Meditation takes time and patience. Don't be in too big a hurry to get some kind of  results.

9. Meditate Early or Late in the Day Of course, you can meditate anytime you want, but many people find it easier to meditate early in the morning before their busy day is upon them. Often people also find that sitting meditation at the end of the day, when their busy work schedule is behind them is easier. Since meditation is not so easy to do, it helps to pick times of the day, when it's easier to give yourself permission to be still in this way.

10. Respect the Limitations of Your Body It's important to respect your body. Sitting cross legged on the floor is a good posture for meditation because it supports your back, but if you are not limber, it may be difficult to do. You can sit in a chair too. The most important thing is to be upright. There is no one way to do meditation that is right. So approach this practice realistically, acknowledging your own physical limitations. If you really want to sit cross legged, that is probably a good thing, but you may need to work up to that gradually, through stretching, or doing some yoga practice.

I hope you will find some of these suggestions helpful. Please write and comment on this blog and let me know how your meditation practice is going. What tips have you found that are helpful for you that might help others?

Robert Althouse

Mindfulness Meditation

JonKabatZinn"There is nothing weird or out of the ordinary about meditating or meditation. It is just about paying attention in your life as if it really mattered. And it might help to keep in mind that, while it is really nothing out of the ordinary, nothing particularly special, mindfulness is at the same time extraordinarily special and utterly transformative in ways that are impossible to imagine. When cultivated and refined, mindfulness can function effectively on every level, from the individual to the corporate, the societal, the political, and the global. But it does require that we be motivated to realize who we actually are and to live our lives as if they really mattered, not just for ourselves, but for the world."

Jon Kabat-Zinn from Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness