Stress at work is no joke. It can lead to a myriad of illnesses, including depression, heart diseases and other issues.
Which is why, you probably should leave the job if it’s doing more harm than good to your life. That said, if you’re all right with your job but face a few tough days once in a while, it might be worth looking into what can reduce stress levels.
Bjorn Lee, founder of meditation app MindFi, who recently spoke at a Today At Apple session, dished out tips on how meditation and the mindfulness practice could help reduce stress levels.
What exactly is the practice of mindfulness?
“Mindfulness meditation means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,” Jon Kabat Zinn once said. He was a graduate student of MIT in the 1970s and pioneered an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program that has received a lot of scientific studies and research attention over the decades.
Why is mindfulness important?
We are easily distracted and our attention spans are very short today. Mindfulness can help us improve our attention and cope better with the daily stresses of modern living.
Now, I know that our phones may be a primary cause of our distractions and hence having a meditation/mindfulness mobile app sounds ironic… but at MindFi, we take a practical and simple approach. It doesn’t require you to throw your phone away but use your phone positively for a mindful cause.
How can someone start on the practice?
Many people assume that meditation must be done with our eyes closed. I thought so too, seven years ago! It is possible to be mindful with our eyes open and pay attention to everyday objects in our daily lives. In MindFi, we build our audio-guided sessions around four main parts of anyone’s daily routine – meals, commutes, breaks and even work itself. You can eat your lunch mindfully and really taste the food, learn to be aware of your fellow passengers on the train or taxi. At work, you can focus better and overcome that afternoon slump with some of the features in our MindFi app.
How can mindfulness prevent stress and burn out?
I have been experimenting with various mindfulness and meditation techniques since I experienced chest pains from work stress seven years ago. I realised mindfulness is not a one-off silent retreat or something you do at the end of the day. It should be something you can do during a stressful day.
Over the past few years, I have tried to embed mini-practices into my busy schedule. Learning to take a mindful walk after an intense meeting, using quiet restroom time to catch up on my frayed emotions and jumbled thoughts. Even booking a meeting with myself in my calendar so I can actually have personal time to do work during normal office hours!
It is amazing how much self-awareness and appreciation I have learned in my mindfulness journey. However, you shouldn’t expect to become an enlightened person! My colleagues have told me that I have become a better listener during conversations and I think I lose my temper less, or apologise faster because I am more mindful of my impulses.
What are simply mindfulness practices that someone can start with immediately?
Look up from your laptop and thank the first two people that you see, silently. It can be simple things like the colleague who helped open the door for you this morning or the cleaner who wiped your desk. Or sit on your office chair and get curious about the sensations you feel as the chair’s fabric or surface touches your body.
In these two examples, gratitude and curiosity are the components of mindfulness. They are simple doorways to help you understand how your daily life can be simply rewired for mindfulness.
If someone has started on mindfulness but fell off the wagon because work has gotten hectic, what can they do to get back on track?
The very first thing they should do is not feel bad, or guilty, that they stopped. Even experienced meditators fall off the wagon or have the occasional bad session despite being mindful daily. My go-to practice is “one mindful breath before I sleep”, inspired by ex-Google engineer Chade Meng Tan.
Before I sleep, I get really curious about only one breath – the inhale and exhale, as if it’s the only thing in my life at that moment. Then stop, say “good job me” and sleep! The trick is not to get too ambitious for each practice as daily repetition is more important.
Since one breath is so simple, I end up doing this almost every day and day after day, you will naturally increase to two breaths, three, five,10… That’s how I built back my mindfulness practice years ago. Small, baby steps… before learning to crawl, walk, run. If I fall, start from baby steps again.
Text: Atika Lim / The Singapore Women’s Weekly / March 2018
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Finding it hard to cope with work? We’re here to help. Here’s how to handle a boss who likes to jump to conclusions (sometimes at your detriment), and a strong case on why you should stop doing “office housework”, like calling that Grab to lunch or buying birthday cakes. And finally, should you talk about salaries with your friends and colleagues? Read our case here.