I am a work stress veteran. When I started my career as a copywriter in Amsterdam ad agencies, I found myself suffocating under strict deadlines, 60+ hour work weeks and gruelling review sessions. The ad world quickly killed my initial self-confidence and enthusiasm, and at the age of 27 I decided I had had enough. I bravely changed tack, took the plunge and started my own agency. Ten successful years followed. But although having complete control made a positive impact on my self-confidence, I hadn’t a clue how to effectively cope with everyday stress triggers. And so, while my success and income increased, my happiness levels steadily crumbled. After having met with clients, brainstormed for yet another ad campaign, or written another chapter of my book, I often rushed from the office for doctor’s appointments, painful medical treatments and intense psychotherapy sessions.
I struggled on until severe depression and burnout forced me to give up on my career. I was exhausted. Even though I had worked extremely hard, every single night I had fallen into bed with the acid sensation of failure churning in my stomach. The more to-do-lists I made, the more tasks seemed to pile up. I was always behind on schedule and somehow never managed to get on top of my work. Inner emptiness, a nagging sense of incompetence and chronic stress had become my life companions, always whispering in my ear what a loser I was.
Only when I started to practice mindfulness, my life changed for the better. My books on mindfulness became international bestsellers and I developed an online platform to teach others about the incredibly sensible principles of mindfulness.
Now that I see how work stress and burnout have turned into a true epidemic, I would like to share my three mindfulness tips to help you reduce your work stress and get back in control of your life.
When at work, we tend to rush through our tasks and meetings while being bombarded by a steady flow of emails and texts. This puts us under tremendous pressure because there is no relieve. Today you can change this exhausting process by mindfully creating a bit of time between two tasks. And so today, after every task you have completed, such as a phone call, writing an email, attending a meeting, or finishing a report, you consciously take a be-break. A be-break is a short break from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, in which you allow yourself some time to simply be, rather than do. In your be-break, you walk from your desk to the office kitchen, garden or balcony. Leave your phone on your desk (be brave, you can do it!) and walk in full awareness. Pay attention to the walking process: feel your feet on the floor, how your muscles work to lift your one leg, how your body holds itself upright, how your head balances on your neck. Feel the expression on your face and soften it. When you have arrived, take a few deep breaths.
Then tell yourself:
“I’m grateful that I am alive now.”
“I respect my body that is always at my service without complaining.”
“This is a precious moment that deserves my appreciation.”
Only after having enjoyed your be-break, you take on your next assignment.
Honour your energy
If, after a hard day’s work, you still feel unfulfilled because yet again you weren’t able to finish your all-important project, try a mindful approach. The next working day, allow yourself to work on everything that will come your way, with your full dedication. This day, you won’t judge and divide tasks into ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Today, every task will be worth your unconditional energy. So you start working on your pet project, but then a colleague comes into your office with a question. Instead of habitually striking him with your deadly glare, you now consciously listen to his problem and help him find a solution. Take all the time you need, because you’ve resolved that all tasks, even those that you would normally label as ‘disruptions’, are worth your full attention. After that, you have a be-break in which you are rather than do, and then you work on your project again. When the phone rings, talk to your client with a sense of calm since you know you have allowed yourself to see this as a ‘good’ task, not as a ‘bad’ one. Once the phone call is done, you work on your project again. And so, throughout the day, you embrace all those distractions because today they are equally important to you. At the end of the day, appreciate this different way of working in which you have completed so many different tasks with full respect for your own human energy. You have consciously added a level of quality to all those different, seemingly unimportant tasks, which will leave you feeling calm, content and fulfilled.
Resolve to be compassionate
One of the main causes of work stress is the energy of colleagues. If they are stressed, frustrated or cross, their mood infects everyone on the work floor. Responding negatively to such energy only adds oxygen to a smouldering fire, and you run the risk of getting burned. Today, try a different approach. Resolve to be calm and patient. Accept that your bad-tempered colleague has a hard time, whether or not you understand why. Understand that her impossible behaviour has nothing to do with you, but with some issue in her life. So pay some sincere attention to this colleague. Not only for her, but also for yourself. Resolving to be compassionate is a very powerful emotion that makes you feel good about yourself, and reduces stress. Ask her if you can help her with any of her tasks, and then do it without sighing or rolling your eyes. Get her a cup of coffee or her favourite doughnut. Sit down and let her talk freely about the things that are troubling her. Reach out from the goodness of your heart and give her a helping hand. Sincere attention is a magical remedy and you’ll see that she will feel a lot better, clearing up the atmosphere in the office not just for you, but for your other colleagues too.
When you have a busy life, practising mindfulness-in-everything-you-do will help you fall less often in the stress trap while consistently working on a better focus, emotional resilience and spiritual growth. As you can see, to be mindful you don’t need to meditate. By simply performing tasks with a different mindset, you can start creating a more balanced and more fulfilling life right away. You’ll find more down-to-earth tips in my in-depth article about reducing work stress with mindfulness
About the author
For ten years Marisa Garau (51) ran her ad agency in Amsterdam, working as both a copywriter and a journalist. With her husband she moved to Mangawhai where she authors internationally published bestsellers on mindfulness. Together the couple started their own olive oil brand, and run Growing Mindfulness online platform. Next year they will launch MindSpa, an in-office mindfulness solution to help employers reduce stress on the work floor, boost creativity and nurture holistic leadership.