The workplace has changed a lot in the past few years, but it is agreeable even today that it can get over your nerves sometimes. Picture this: you didn’t sleep well last night and woke up in a bad mood. You try to keep your patience as everything possible goes wrong before you even start working. Now you’re late, and your boss is sure to be upset. No matter how hard you try today, you can’t get ahead. That annoying coworker is on your last nerve, and you’re drowning in deadlines. You hardly notice but your shoulders have climbed up to your ears or that you’ve been holding your breath all day. Just imagining this might make you feel anxious.
You might feel like disappearing on a month-long holiday and getting some relaxation. Maybe you see yourself going to the mountains or beaches, sitting by the beauty of the night, enjoying the calm. But this won’t always be possible because you have responsibilities at work and in your personal life.
So, how do you find peace in an increasingly busy, stressful world? The evidence has been mounting for years, and it’s conclusive: meditation has significant effects on physical and emotional wellness.
Common reasons why people avoid meditation Maybe you’ve tried meditating before, but you didn’t “get” it. Or you’re too busy and can’t make the time. Before we discuss how meditation can solve your workplace problems, we need to clear up some misconceptions about meditation.
Meditation is NOT:
Forcing yourself to sit in a rigid posture, regardless of pain
Clearing your mind completely of thoughts
A time-consuming, completely silent practice
Exclusively available to people of a certain religion
If you go into meditation with the goal of not thinking, you are going to be disappointed. It's impossible to stop the mind from thinking - it works hard even when you’re asleep. But meditation helps us become more aware of our thoughts and creates space between them and our actions. Stereotypes about posture and practice style come from specific traditions, but they’re not requirements for the practice.
What is meditation?
You may get a different definition of meditation depending on who you ask, but the simplest definition is this: meditation is any set of practices, rituals, or techniques that increase awareness of the present moment. You can use meditation for relaxation, to improve focus, and to feel more connected to others.
Any posture that allows you to relax, even laying down
Becoming aware of your thoughts instead of reacting to them
Becoming more aware of any moment, no matter how small
Available to anyone, anywhere, at any time
Now, should you listen to something guided, or practice independently? Are you interested in techniques from a spiritual tradition, or are you only interested in evidence-based, secular practices? The answer may be different depending on your reason for meditating.
How will meditation help me at work?
Meditation has exploded into the corporate world, but the benefits have been known for decades. Consider the 1983 case study of Detroit chemical plant owner R.W. Montgomery, who paid for half his workforce to learn meditation. He also paid for his workers to meditate for 20 minutes per day, on the job. You may think that sounds like a dream, but the benefits far outweighed the costs: absenteeism, sick days, and workplace injuries fell dramatically, and profits soared.
How can a simple daily meditation practice help you work smarter, not harder? Keep reading to discover the three most common workplace problems, and how you can use meditation to solve them.
Problem 1: Work is too stressful.
The average person will spend more than one-third of their life working; therefore, career choice and work environment have a huge impact on personal well-being. Between pressure to outperform, interpersonal conflicts with coworkers, and work-life balance, it can be hard to shake off the stress at the end of the day. Numerous studies claim that workplace pressures are the leading cause of stress in adult lives. With current global affairs, that pressure is just getting worse.
Think back to the scenario at the beginning of this article. Did any part of that person’s day resonate with you? If so, you are likely holding on to stress. Tense muscles, back pain, headaches, tummy troubles, sleeplessness - these are all signs that stress is making a home in your body. If left unaddressed, stress can lead to long-term health impairments, including autoimmune disease.
Solution: Try a guided meditation for relaxation
Meditation is a powerhouse when it comes to down regulating stress in the nervous system. Studies show that meditation leads to a 30% decrease in stress symptoms that may lead to illness. Regular practice is more beneficial than sporadic attempts, but even ten days of guided meditation can reduce stress by 14%.
There are dozens of meditation techniques out there, but none are more studied than Mindfulness. This practice involves bringing your attention to sensations in the body or your environment, which helps you slow down and tell your body you’re safe. This is a great technique to reduce burnout because it helps balance the fight-flight response of the nervous system with the rest-digest aspect. The more time your body spends in relaxation mode, the better!
Other techniques that significantly improve stress include guided relaxation and pranayama, or breathwork. The next time you’re having a moment at your desk, try mindfully slowing your breath. Set a timer every day - try it before stressful meetings, or during your afternoon slump in place of coffee. Your body will thank you!
Problem 2: I’m bored at work and feel unfulfilled
Whether you feel disconnected from your work, or your options for advancement aren’t as great as you’d like, there’s nothing worse than finding yourself in a rut with your career. You may feel like you don’t have enough creative control over the work you’re producing, or that your job isn’t spiritually fulfilling.
Unfortunately, the reality for many of us is that we have to do a job to pay our bills, and passion comes second. This might cause us to feel less than excited in other areas of our life, too. Studies show that low workplace satisfaction is linked to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
But you don’t have to quit your job and start over in a new career to fulfill your soul’s desire. Of course, this is where meditation comes in.
Solution: Meditation to relax the mind and increase creativity
Researchers are just now catching on to the benefits of meditation for creativity by studying what is known as divergent thinking. Divergent thinking helps generate new ideas by exploring many possible outcomes. This method of processing involves breaking an idea down into smaller parts and observing from every possible angle. Naturally, a study by the University of Groningen found that meditators were able to be more creative due to their increased problem-solving skills.
Meditation allows us to create space between our thoughts and actions, which makes room for divergent thinking to occur. When we’re not caught up in action, we begin to piece together more details - and see from a different perspective. Being able to do that helps in every aspect of the workplace: from interactions with colleagues to pivoting as a business.
If you’re feeling bored and unfulfilled by your tasks at work, it may be as simple as managing expectations. Mindfulness helps instill a reflective quality in our thought processes so that we become more aware of simple moments of joy, as well as the mundane and boring.
Problem 3: My back hurts from sitting all day
No matter what kind of career you have, repetitive stress and workplace injury affect workers at all levels. Chronic pain may be the biggest contributing factor to absenteeism, but outside the bottom line, pain takes a toll on the psyche, leading to depression and anxiety. When sedentary positions and constant stress combine, it creates the inflammation and muscular tension that precede pain.
Muscular tension is a warning sign from your nervous system that it is overloaded with stress. When your nervous system starts communicating in this way, there is a high probability your immune system has already noticed, which is where stress leads to long-term negative health outcomes.
Meditation will help prevent chronic pain, but what if you’re already experiencing pain and dysfunction?
Solution: Try a chronic pain meditation.
While meditation has a reputation for improving focus and thinking skills, it also helps the
systems of the body communicate effectively. If you need less focus and more muscle relaxation, meditation helps ease the tension that causes pain by soothing over-firing nerves that cause tension. Specific techniques like mindfulness and breathwork help rebuild bridges in the nervous system so your body can communicate more effectively. If sitting quietly and sensing your body is more your speed, conscious relaxation practices help undo the damage done by tension, leaving you with more freedom to move.
The most effective practice at relieving chronic pain is a combination of all three: mindful sensing of painful areas of the body, conscious relaxation to release tension, and mindful breathing to help increase blood flow. Together, this trifecta creates a powerful tool for healing chronic conditions.
Create a meditation culture at work
When it comes to management, reducing stress for employees is simply effective leadership. The evidence is clear that meditation creates better long-term health outcomes, reduces burnout, improves mood regulation and creativity, helps to manage pain, and so many more benefits.
If you’re not in charge of your workplace, but want to inspire a cultural shift, start a daily meditation practice of your own. Find a welcoming space where you can sit comfortably, and enjoy your productivity break. There is no greater inspiration than someone who is quietly changing their own life.