Hands up if you’ve ever felt completely overwhelmed by a situation at work? Something happens and you’re hit with that panicky feeling, killing any creative flair you may have felt. It’s daunting enough that you’ve got your routine, everyday task list sat there glaring at you but then this, on top of everything else, is just too much.
Well there’s good news! When a situation arises, everything doesn’t have to seem so ominous. With practice you can use mindfulness to address these challenging events as they unfold, with a level head and move forward in a manner you are comfortable with. In other words, we can empower ourselves through a little brain-training, to self-regulate our own nervous system responses so we feel better equipped to handle situations we perceive to be difficult.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the simple yet very powerful practice of training our attention. It is simple because it’s about paying attention to what’s happening here and now (i.e. noticing sensations, thoughts, and emotions) without engaging with or reacting to it i.e. in a non-judgemental way. It’s also powerful in that it can enforce changes to habits such as daydreaming or getting lost in unhelpful thought. Our worries tend to be mostly about the future or past and often create more, unnecessary stress aside from the real pressures of daily life.
Mindfulness at work
We can use mindfulness throughout all aspects of our lives to help us make space for those negative feelings to just be as they are, and in the work place is no different. If you’re excited and happy with your job, that’s OK! Enjoy it! Observe all that there is to be observed and keep observing! However, if you’re not feeling so great about your current working situation, that’s OK too. Mindfulness is just about bringing awareness to whatever you are experiencing right now, whether positive or not, and trying to merely observe it, without engaging with or judging it. It’s having the experience but with openness, awareness and presence. Oh, and the best thing about practising mindfulness is you can do it anywhere, anytime, it is just simply remembering to do it! So if you’re at desk, in a meeting, at home, on the phone, whatever you are doing you can always take that moment to breathe, acknowledge and observe.
Read on and I’ll walk through a mindfulness exercise right now, in this very blog post. When we’re done, you’ll know a mindful practice you can incorporate into your day (and practice wherever you are), which can in turn, help you to develop new skillful methods of dealing with what goes on inside your brain and body when we start to freak out. Ready? Let’s go.
Just a little extra tip before we begin…
Just before we get started, it’s a good idea to identify and write down what your main reasons are for practising this exercise.
Examples of reasons could be…
- I’m panicking about my meetings this afternoon.
- I feel like I could’ve done a better job speaking in this morning’s brief.
- I just feel panicky/worried/anxious all the time.
- I’m feeling disconnected/ambivalent.
Additionally, write down your desired outcomes, the goals you would like to achieve as a result of practising the exercise e.g.:
- I’d like to feel calmer, less hyped up when presented with these sorts of situations.
- I want to feel more assertive and confident when speaking to others.
- I don’t want to feel so disengaged/disassociated, I want to be more in tune/clear-headed.
By completing this step, any improvement can be marked and measured and you can begin to really see yourself developing a more mindful approach to handling various life occurrences.
Be a Tree – Grounding exercise
This is a grounding exercise that you may use if feeling stressed, anxious, panicked, hyped up, triggered, having racing thoughts, feeling dissociated, spaced out or exhausted (or even completely fine but you’ve just got some time to kill). In this exercise, you could be standing up or sitting down but generally your feet are planted in one spot. It’s called a grounding exercise because it helps to bring our focus entirely to the ‘now’ through tactile sensation (i.e. our physical sensations, specifically our feet and, if sitting down, our points of contact with the chair and where the chair’s legs meet the ground).
Sit or stand in a location where you will be able to relax and focus for a few minutes.
Whilst you are standing or sitting, bring your awareness to your feet, feel them.
Rest your attention on them for a little while. Relax. Be curious. Watch. Breathe naturally.
Begin to hone in on specific sensations. What do you notice? Is there pressure on any part of your foot? Can they feel different temperatures? Do you feel any tingling, your socks/shoes touching your feet, or air moving around? How do the texture of your socks/insoles of your shoes feel?
Describe in your mind or out loud the characteristics of the sensations on the bottoms, insides, and on the surface of your feet.
Feel what it feels like to be supported by the floor. Feel how solid the floor is. You might like to think to yourself, “the floor supports me.” If you want to make that sensation stronger you can slide or push your feet against the floor. Keep feeling the floor just a little longer than you feel inclined to.
TIP: If your focus wanders, that’s ok, just keep bringing it back to the exercise…
Breathe. Notice your feet on the ground, imagine in the exact locations your feet meet with the ground that you’re growing roots into the ground. Roots that hold your feet firmly in place. You are attached to the Earth.
If sitting down, focus your attention on the sensations in your back, bottom and thighs sitting on the surface of the object you are sitting on. If standing, focus on the sensations of your legs and back holding you upright.
Keep your attention on those areas for a little bit. Relax. Be curious. Watch. Breathe.
Begin to hone in on specific sensations. What do you notice?
Is there pressure on different parts? Are there different temperatures? Do you feel any slight prickling or tingling, sensations of your clothing, or of the air?
Describe in your mind or out loud the characteristics of the sensations.
These are the characteristics of the specific location where you are located in this present moment.
You are in one location and one time. You may think to yourself, “I am located here. I am supported by the floor. This is the place I am located in this moment.”
Finish by just sensing if there are any ways you feel different now than when you started the exercise. How does your state now, compare with the feelings and sensations you were experiencing prior to beginning the exercise? (See the notes you wrote down about your reasons for practicing and desired goals/outcomes).
By practising this exercise, you put some time and effort into your personal development and resilience. Even if you only felt a tiny bit different, you still taught your own nervous system something about what it feels like to go from a highly activated/reactive state of mind to a calmer, more clear-headed place. You have learnt a skill that you can now practice and use at any time you need it, to learn to return yourself, to your relaxed/focused self.
Want to know more about mindfulness? Visit the Mindfulness home page.