How Scheduling Mindfulness Breaks Can Improve Your Work Life

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Mar. 21 2024, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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If you’ve been feeling burdened and burnt out from stress, struggling to hold space for these feelings while also navigating your career goals the struggle isn’t a reflection on you or your capabilities. Across the board, women are feeling stressed– and in need of tools to cope.

The American Psychological Association’s 2023 Stress In America Surveyrevealed that women are experiencing more stress than men, and to a greater degree: women were more likely to rate their stress levels between an 8 and a 10. Meanwhile, the study found that 68% of women reported that they could have used more emotional support in the last twelve months.

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While the benefits of receiving emotional support from others cannot be minimized, it’s also within our power to create lifestyle habits that empower us to give more emotional support to ourselves. One such tool for doing so is through the practice of mindfulness.

An extensive body of research (and many spiritual traditions) extolls the benefits of mindfulness on our physical and mental well-being. The Mayo Clinic identifies benefits including reduced stress, less negative thinking, less distraction, and improved mood- all of which can contribute to a healthier, more balanced work-life.

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To understand exactly how we can start using mindfulness to reduce stress at work, I spoke with Mariya Javed-Payne, a licensed independent clinical social worker and somatic psychotherapist who owns Awaken Consulting Services.

Mindfully Tuning Into Our Bodies

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While we may not have known it, we always have the best tool for practicing mindfulness at our disposal: it’s our bodies.

“‘We spend a lot of time in our heads,” Javed-Payne said. “When we start to just bring this awareness that our poor little heads don’t have to carry it all, [we realize] there’s more information coming up from the body into the brain than the other way around.”

At work, we’re often using so much of our mental faculties that it’s easy to take our focus off our bodies- or forget to acknowledge them all together. While this may help us meet our deadlines and check major projects off our lists, it perpetuates the disconnect that Javed-Payne is describing and ultimately compounds our stress.

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Mindfulness exercises can help us repair this disconnect. To get started Javed-Payne offers a little assignment for her clients.

“It’s called a somatic check-in,” she added. “We’ll set an alarm for three times in a day. When it goes off, they take a moment to pause when they see it pop up on their screen, and they notice their body they scan from top to bottom what’s happening.”

Pausing to focus one’s attention on the body is mindfulness embodied. While the pause itself is powerful, so are the questions we ask ourselves when we finally settle into the moment.

Javed-Payne offers guidance. “Are you noticing tension? Do you feel grounded anywhere? Do you feel peaceful or calm?”

She notes that the sheer process of starting to witness oneself is far more important than the content that comes up. While we all want to feel calm, it’s okay if we don’t- the mindfulness check-in is still valuable even if what we’re observing feels challenging.

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Witnessing The Benefits At Work

When we commit to these daily scheduled check-ins over time, we can start to see results. Javed-Payne has witnessed transformations firsthand through her work with clients.

“They’re much more able to identify what they’re thinking and feeling and starting to name this interconnected system that they have,” she shared. “They feel more embodied. And when we’re more embodied, we have more resources, because we’re not just trying to figure something out from our head. We’re utilizing all of the messaging that we get from our bodies as well.”

Having more resources at our disposal is vital when it comes to managing stress at work. Javed-Payne emphasizes that it helps us make our choices with more clarity. She gives the example of noticing your stomach aching: while in the past, you might have ignored it or thought to push through, you can take what you learn from your somatic check-in and do something to care for yourself instead, like taking a pause to go get some ginger tea.

Learning to listen to ourselves even when we’re busy can bring a powerful sense of personal agency and relief. It can also have a ripple effect on our relationships.

“When we talk with somebody who feels really calm or grounded, our body also begins to connect with that,” said Javed-Payne. “When we’re able to relate to ourselves, then we can do that to other people.”

The good news is even the busiest among us can find time for these somatic check-ins: they don’t even have to be more than a minute long.

Now, next time you schedule a team check-in, remember to set one aside for yourself.

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By: Natalli Marie Amato

Natalli Amato is a journalist and poet based in Saratoga Springs, New York. She covers wellness, relationships, and culture for Her Agenda, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Saratoga Living, and others. Natalli has authored four poetry collections, the most recent being 2023's 'North Wind.' Natalli is currently earning her master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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