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Calm, Inc.

Exercise, yoga and biofeedback are terrific for dealing with stress. We can embrace serenity in yoga class, at the gym or in a peaceful park. But what about at the office? Here are some relaxing and easy-to-do tips for de-stressing on the job, courtesy of Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior's new Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).

By Diana Winston

Published Jul 1, 2007 8:00 AM

Top of Mind

Still can't settle down? Learn more about getting less stressed and more calm on the job or at home at the MARC Web site here. You'll find mindfulness classes and workshops, downloadable meditations, monthly lectures and other information on how to stay in the moment.

By Diana Winston

Intention is everything.

When I arrive in my office, I set an intention to be mindful and kind throughout the day. I am a big believer in the power of intentions. Even if it doesn't feel like the intention is actually producing immediate results, the setting of the intention is like planting a seed; one day it will result in a fruit.

Try "STOPping."

In our mindfulness classes, I like to teach a very helpful acronym that can remind us to bring mindful awareness into any part of our day. S is for "Stop." Whatever you're doing, take a pause for a moment. T is "Take a Breath." Take a slow, aware breath. This will help calm you down and return to center. O is for "Observe." Notice what's happening in this present moment. What are you feeling? What's happening in your body? Is there anything obvious that you can notice? And P is for "Proceed." Continue with whatever you were doing. This whole practice should take about 15 seconds.

Use technology to help (not overwhelm) you.

So how are you going to remember to "STOP"? Rather than getting angry or frustrated by the overload of e-mail, set an alarm on your computer at half-hour intervals. Every time it goes off, take a mindfulness break. STOP. Stop and close your eyes (or keep them open, as you wish). Take a breath. Notice what you're feeling. Then begin your work again. There are even mindfulness chimes you can download off the Web.

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Photo by Brigitte Sire

Remember that you have a body.

I know that sounds silly, but we often forget that our body exists, especially those of us with computer jobs. Our bodies are doorways into mindfulness, because our bodies are always in the present moment (unlike our minds, which are usually in the past or the future). To reconnect with your body, sink your attention to your feet. Feel your feet on the floor. Then scan up your body, noticing your weight on your chair, the position of your hands. Notice your back against the chair. Relax your shoulders. Try this at least three times a day.

Move with attention.

If you have a more physical job, bring body awareness to your movements. If you are lifting something heavy, notice the weight in your hands, your full body as the posture shifts. Feel your muscles as they work. When you stand up or sit down, try to notice all the body sensations that you can. This will bring you back into your body in the present moment.

Make one activity mindful

You can pick one specific activity that you do in your day and make it a mindful one. Many years ago, I worked as a waitress. Whenever I would leave the kitchen, I would have to exit through a swinging door. I would use that as my "mindfulness moment." Every time my hand slapped the door to open it, I would remember to be mindful — feeling the sensation of my hand touching the cold metal door. It made a huge difference in my day as it grounded and centered me, even for one moment, and once it became a habit, my mind would do it automatically.

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Photo by Brigitte Sire

Anywhere you go, walk mindfully

You can bring your attention to your feet and legs no matter what kind of job you do; you will likely have to walk to get there. Rather than using your walk down the hall or from your car to work as an opportunity to worry about all the things you have to accomplish or did wrong, use it to practice mindfulness. When I'm walking down the long corridor at the Semel Institute to get to my office, I remember to feel my feet on the ground, feeling connected to my body. It helps me feel grounded when I enter my office. And if you're outside, try to feel your feet, but also take in the sights and sounds and colors and activity. Stay in the present moment; do not get lost in resentment or worry.

E-mail practice

When you send an e-mail, try as a practice taking one breath before you send it. Or you can bring in a "positive emotions practice" to complement your mindfulness. One of my friends has a policy that every time he sends an e-mail, he always includes a kind thought in his message (like, "I hope you're having a great day today"). Then, as he sends the e-mail, he mentally visualizes the person he is contacting and wishes her well.

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Photo by Brigitte Sire

Bring mindfulness to difficult emotions

Even tricky situations that bring out our irritation or anxiety can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness. When I am in an elevator that is stopping at every floor, I know my mind tends to get annoyed, especially when every button is pushed and I'm running late. When I remember, I sometimes try to just notice my agitation in my body. What does the frustration feel like in my belly? I try to relax and remember that there's nothing I can do about it. Other times I try to send well wishes to my elevator mates.

Mindfulness, even amid chaos

If a lot is going on — noise and phone calls, and a colleague yelling to you — bring mindfulness to the full situation by recognizing that "a lot is happening." Look around, relax and know it is the nature of your job to be busy. Don't think it's a problem and it's too noisy to concentrate on your breath. Just become aware of multiple activities, and be sure to breathe.