While acute, short-term stress may actually improve performance at work, chronic stress—that muted but ever-present anxiety brought on by thinking about a toxic boss or a laundry list of projects—can have damaging effects, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
The bad news is that chronic work stress affects at least 70 percent of Americans. One survey found that eight in 10 employed Americans reported feeling stress at work due to factors such as increased workloads and inadequate compensation.
“ While we can’t necessarily control our responsibilities, pay, or the people we interact with at work, we can control how we respond to these stressors by cultivating resilience. ”
The good news is we can prevent these numbers from growing. While we can’t necessarily control our responsibilities, pay, or the people we interact with at work, we can control how we respond to these stressors by cultivating resilience—or the ability to adapt to stress in a healthy way by staying present, self-aware, and attending to one’s own needs.
There are various practices we can integrate into our everyday routines that will allow us to better address our own needs, desires, and intentions in (and outside of) the workplace, and they all come down to one common theme: mindfulness.
I recently sat down with insight meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg, whose newest book, Real Happiness at Work, explores how mindfulness practices such as meditation can help us reimagine our approach to our jobs—and, in the process, help us find happiness and a greater sense of balance in the workplace.
According to Salzberg, resilience serves as an alternative to “the illusion of control”—the false belief that we should have more control over coworkers, bosses, clients, and work outcomes than we actually do. In reality, we don’t have control over anything but ourselves. The thought may seem scary, but it actually offers a ton of freedom.
“ The first step toward developing resilience is challenging the idea that we can control everything. ”
In fact, the first step toward developing resilience is challenging the idea that we can control everything. Rather than beat ourselves up for the disappointments and negative outcomes we inevitably experience at work (or elsewhere), we can learn to practice acceptance of ourselves and of our situations, whether good or bad. In so doing, we give ourselves the gift of mental space—and in this space, we can learn to realize that difficult experiences and setbacks are actually opportunities for learning and growth.
So how do we get to a place where we choose acceptance, mindfulness, and growth over anxiety and self-deprecation? Follow the action plan below.
Mindfulness can be practiced at any time, even while walking, drinking tea, or writing an email. Follow these simple action steps to let go of the illusion of control and instead cultivate resilience on the job.
“Meditation provides us with a sense of perspective by allowing us intimacy with our experience. When we practice mindfulness, we train our minds to become aware of our emotions and thoughts as they arise, so we can better understand our intentions,” says Salzberg. Meditation allows us to see better into the nature of things, without all the baggage of judgment, insecurity, and whatever other self-destructive stories our chattering minds perpetuate.
Committing to a regular meditation practice—even just 10 minutes a day—can go a long way toward helping you feel calm in the face of work stressors. There are a wide variety of practices to choose from, so experiment to find what works best for you.
Emotional stress can manifest as physical tension. To help ease both, practice relaxing your body with this simple exercise:
Stress can often lead to irritability and feelings of guilt and blame. This exercise can help put the brakes on self-punishing language as you develop a softer and more forgiving inner dialogue.
When we have a lot on our plate, we tend to feel overwhelmed and like the world is spinning out of control. That’s where the practice of setting intentions comes into play. This exercise will help you become more aware of the intentions that drive what you say and do. When we realize that all of our actions emerge from some kind of intention and that we have the power to change that intention, we invite ourselves to feel more present, focused, and calm. Stay present with your intentions by using these practices throughout the day:
Each of us already contains all we need to cope within ourselves. This exercise will help you gain a sense of empowerment over your coping mechanisms, and help you realize the potency of your own resources for self-care.
The ability to communicate kindly with coworkers is essential both for getting things done well at work and feeling an overall sense of wellbeing. This basic loving-kindness (or metta) meditation offers a concrete starting place to begin cultivating the art of empathy.
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