Research has shown that practising meditation can improve emotional regulation, which may help you to better manage stressful situations at work and boost your focus.
Mindfulness is the practice of observing your internal realities (thoughts, emotions, memories and sensations) and external realities (social and physical environment) in a non-judgmental way. It has been shown to improve anxiety, stress, insomnia and pain, among others. Cultivating awareness of your body regularly (an internal reality) can help catch negative physical symptoms early. For example, grinding teeth is often associated with tight muscles around the jaw, neck and shoulders. If you pay attention to your body, you can detect the early stages of stress-induced muscle tightening and consciously relax them.
A simple but effective mindfulness-based technique is the body scan. Spend some time each week (at least two minutes) bringing your awareness into the toes of both feet, slowly moving up your body, checking in as you go, until you reach the top of your head.
2. Attention-based meditation
This practice usually involves using some kind of anchor to help maintain a central focus in the mind. Anchors can include the breath, a mantra or phrase such as “I am here now”, or an image, like a candle flame (real or digital). Each time you become distracted with a thought, memory, emotion, image or sensation return to the anchor.
You can practise this anywhere, with eyes open or closed. Start with 60 seconds twice daily and build from there. Don’t expect the mind to be quiet – it won’t be. Your job is to return to your chosen anchor. Using the breath in particular as an anchor can reduce stress by calming nerves associated with the fight or flight response, which takes charge when we’re anxious.
3. Meditation to cultivate compassion
Our inner critic can become very vocal during times of stress. It’s useful to disengage from this voice using attention-based meditation. During difficult times, you should also cultivate compassion for yourself, as a person who makes mistakes.
Find a quiet place and sit or lie down. Set a timer for two minutes. Close your eyes, equalise your breathing (five seconds in and five seconds out) and then try to picture your own face. Physically smile at your face and imagine it smiling back at you. Wish yourself health and happiness. Realise that you are a human being who deserves love and respect. Your inner critic might disagree but do your best to disengage from this voice.
Some weeks, you might have to use all three tools on a daily basis. For calmer weeks, you could practise for two minutes on Mondays and Fridays, checking in with your body and mind to make sure all is well. Like any skill, the more you practise, the more proficient you will become. Most of all, be kind to yourself.