Over the past few years, the wellness and self-care boom has led to a re-imagining of office life. Where sick days were once a hard-fought and hard-won battle for only the deadliest of illnesses, they can now be assigned to mental health problems and mental distress. Where competitive sports once reigned supreme in the modern office and tabletop football games were the highest priority, wellness spaces and meditation zones are now taking over our workplaces.
We’ve changed the way we view our offices and our attitudes to working life have shifted dramatically; even before the pandemic self-care and wellness movements were slowly creeping into the way we saw our jobs and livelihoods. Through social media campaigns, media drives and medical urging, the modern workplace now has room for mental wellbeing as well as dedicated work.
But it’s not always easy to try and care for your mental health or your stress levels when sat in front of a computer screen all day. When your colleagues on either side are happily typing away, it can feel awkward and embarassing to suddenly whip out your guided meditation playlist and start zoning out. Even if you move to a quiet corner of the office, the threat of missed Slack messages and impromptu meetings can still niggle in the back of your mind.
So how can self-care and wellbeing truly intertwine with the everyday office? Is it actually possible to meditate fully when sitting at your desk? Perhaps not. But there are ways of providing yourself with that much-needed mindfulness, without drawing attention to yourself or ruining your working flow.
1. 3 Minutes of Square Breathing
Square breathing is a new technique, recommended by mental health professionals and meditation specialists alike, to help you slow your breathing and refocus your energy in a short period of time. If you feel your stress levels are beginning to rise or your mind begins to feel overwhelmed and loud, try to imagine a large square in your mind. Each side of the square is exactly the same length, it is the perfect shape to guide your breaths. As you breath in, you run across the top of the square. As you exhale, you slide down the side of the square. Inhale again and walk along the bottom of the square. Exhale again and climb up the side of the square.
Repeat this breathing pattern for at least three minutes, continuously imagining the square in your mind. If you find it hard to imagine the square in a noisy or crowded space, try drawing a square out on a notebook or scrap of paper and overline it with each round of breaths.
It’s important to breathe slowly here, taking your time to work your way around the square. You don’t need to breathe too deeply or too loudly if it makes you feel uncomfortable, but just taking a little time to focus on your body and your mind can help you feel calmer and more relaxed when you return your focus to the work.
2. The 5 Sense Test
Another popular meditative and mindfulness practice to try when feeling overwhlemed at work is the 5 Sense Test. You can either practice this mentally or physically with a pen and paper if you find it works better for you.
Start by naming 5 things you can see. For example, coffee cup, potted plant, desk chair, computer screen, water bottle.
Then name 5 things you can smell. For example, someone’s coffee, perfume, new carpets, shampoo, your deodorant.
Name 5 things you can hear. For example, typing, music, high heels walking on the floor, mouses clicking, talking.
Name 5 things you have said in the past hour. For example, good morning, hello, a conversation with a friend, an instruction to a colleague, a report for your boss.
Name 5 things you have tasted today. For example, your breakfast, toothpaste, your tea, a snack, your gum.
This is a great exercise for your brain as not only does it help you to remain mindful of yourself and your surroundings but it’s also a good memory game as well – helping you to reflect on your experiences so far and the things you have done throughout the day. If you find you’re listing the same things over again, try and find different scents and sounds and sights, maybe from different parts of the office or at different times of the day.
3. Muscle Relaxation
This is a really useful meditative and stress-relieving exercise to try if you can feel that you’re holding a lot of tension in your body throughout the day. It’s subtle and simple enough to do at your desk without drawing any attention to yourself and you can even carry on working as you complete it.
Starting at the top of your head, tense and relax your muscles one by one, slowly moving your way down your body until you reach your toes. This needs be a slow and calming movement, mentally selecting a muscle, tensing it for a few seconds and then relaxing it gently. It’s important to focus on the parts of our body that tend to hold the most stress, such as our jaw, our shoulders, our hands and our stomach – allowing them to be clenched and released, letting the tension simply float away.
This can be repeated throughout the day if neccesary, and is a great way to re-connect with your body in times of stress.
4. The Dark Room.
This exercise typically should be carried out in more private spaces, so even if the only place you can have a few moments alone is in a toilet cubicle, it’s still a good way to help yourself meditate throughout the day.
Sit on a comfortable surface, with a straight back, and start drawing in some long, deep breaths. After a few minutes, close your eyes and look into your eyelids. It might sound strange, but ideally you want to be in the dark and if you can imagine looking into the curtain of your eyelids, you’ll be able to achieve this stage of meditation without requiring too much imagination. If this doesn’t work for you however, then try to imagine a completely empty, black room. Black walls, black floor, black ceiling – you’re in a room of nothingness, the only thing in that room is you. You can see the walls and the ceiling and the floor, and you’re completely safe, but there is nothing else in that room with you.
Now for five minutes, all you need to do is sit and clear your mind. This might not happen instantly, it might take a little time but the end goal is to be sat still with darkness being the only thing you’re aware of. Personally, to achieve this state, I have to imagine something manually removing the thoughts from my head – like a hoover or a draining sink, but you could imagine your thoughts simply blowing away into the wind or floating away down a river if that helps you. The most important thing to achieve from this exercise is a sense of awareness about your own mind and your own body. It puts you in control and gives you a feeling of calm stillness and serenity that you can carry back with you into the office.
After around 5 minutes, slowly open your eyes and relax your posture. Allow your mind to form new thoughts, and re-connect with your day again.
5. Calming Audiostories or ASMR Playlists
If you’re allowed to use your headphones and listen to music while you work, this is a great practice to enjoy. At the same time each day – say 4 o’clock, when most people start to flag – switch on an audiobook, some white noise, a guided meditation or an asmr video that helps you to feel relaxed, at peace and soothed towards the end of your day.
No one needs to know what you’re listening to, it’s ok if you’re interrupted as you can simply pause your track and if you get into a solid routine of listening to your chosen sound at the same time each day, your body will naturally come to feel relaxed at that particular hour.
It’s entirely up to you to choose your sounds, as everyone reacts differently to different things. Even if all you do is turn on your noise-cancelling headphones and sit in silence for half an hour, it’s still a good way to give yourself a little meditation session while keeping up with your tasks.
Much like exercise, the more meditation you do, the stronger you will become. Every minute of relaxation and meditative practice that you can include in your day will help to make your mind better and allow you more mental power to rely on when times get tough.
With so many of us soon to be returning to our offices, many might find this period of transition difficult, so it’s important to keep on top of your mental health at this time. Even carrying out one of those little exercises can make a big difference to your body and your mind when feeling stressed at work. Give it a go, and find out what works for you.
If you want to catch up on my latest post about post-lockdown anxiety at work, then click here, or drop me a message at [email protected] for more advice.
Thanks for reading.