Oftentimes we search for meaningful work that fulfills us, or we strive for work-life balance trying to avoid burnout. These are admirable pursuits, however on their own they aren’t enough to support our mental health; it’s important to take care of our whole self during the workday not only afterhours.
Brilliant thought leaders and spiritual teachers often share practices they use to bring mindfulness, joy, and intentionality into the workplace.
Here are five ways to take care of your mental health at work, inspired by their wisdom.
1. Get organized.
Have you noticed that working on a cluttered desk can hinder efficiency, block creativity, and drain energy? On the other hand, an organized space adorned with chosen items that spark joy can boost productivity, focus, and inspiration.
Internationally acclaimed tidying expert, best-selling author, and founder Marie Kondo offers simple steps in her beloved KonMari Method process.
- Sort all objects in the office into categories: books, papers, miscellaneous, and sentimental.
- Start with books. Pick up one at a time. Notice if it sparks joy for you. If so, put it in a pile for keeping. If not, thank it for serving you well, then discard or donate it. Do this for each book. Then, move on to the other categories in the order above.
- Once you have chosen items that spark joy from each category, then assign a place for each item. Use trays and containers as needed. By putting each item in a designated place you can easily replace it at the end of the day to keep your space tidy.
On her website, Kondo explains what sets her method apart, “Many people have equated my tidying method with minimalism, but it’s quite different. Minimalism advocates living with less; the KonMari Method™ encourages living among items you truly cherish.”
Take a moment now to envision how your workspace could look and feel. Set time in your calendar to tidy the space, then notice how much smoother your work flows.
2. Take mindful breaks.
It’s easy to get absorbed in work, and even if we love what we do it’s essential to take breaks for our mental health and to feel our best.
Knowing life can be full, Deepak Chopra advises, “If you find it difficult to spare just 10 to 15 minutes of your day to meditate, the next best thing is to give yourself short intervals of inward time throughout the day.”
He suggests these breaks:
- Standing up and stretching at least every hour
- Checking in with yourself regularly to see if you feel centered
- Finding time during the workday to be alone outside even for 2–5 minutes to meditate
- Taking time to re-center yourself after a stress-inducing experience.
Checking in with yourself only takes a moment. Pause, take a few deep breaths, and notice how you feel. If you already feel centered, then taking a break is a proactive measure for your mental health. If you feel off, don’t wait for the stress to go away on its own. Take a longer break and get outside for some fresh air and new perspective.
In fact, can you take a moment now to stand up, stretch, and enjoy a few deep breaths?
3. Notice triggers.
It can happen anywhere, including at work. The way we interpret a look or an email can cause us to feel triggered and to get hooked into a host of uncomfortable feelings ranging from anger to blame to self-reproach. Because we often can’t bear to sit with the discomfort we fall back on temporary relief. We might lash out, go home and drink too much or overeat, or shut down.
In an article for Lion’s Roar, renowned meditation teacher and author Pema Chödrön helps us understand what’s happening. “At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality.” To avoid feeling what we don’t want to feel, we act in ways that won’t benefit us in the long run.
Pausing in the moment to notice what’s happening within us when we get hooked can be enough to prevent us from reacting in a way we could regret. In the pause, we witness what’s happening, relax, and move forward in a more skillful way.
Chödrön states that meditation is what makes this possible. We practice on the cushion sitting with discomfort, watching it arise and subside as we avoid getting hooked. Then we can do this in our workday, too.
4. Discover Joy in Rethinking Your Beliefs.
Organizational psychologist and best-selling author Adam Grant discusses the joy of being wrong in his book Think Again. Through his research, Grant discovered that there are people who hold tight to their beliefs and those who find joy in learning that they were wrong. If we hold tightly to our beliefs, then when the beliefs are challenged our fight-or-flight response gets activated and we become stressed, agitated, and defensive. On the other hand, if hold our beliefs lightly, we become more interested in discovering the truth than having to be right. This can promote a sense of joy in the discovery process, rather than stress at having been proven wrong.
According to Grant, “The goal is not to be wrong more often. It’s to recognize that we’re all wrong more often than we’d like to admit, and the more we deny it, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves.”
If as leaders and colleagues we demonstrate joy in being wrong when we learn something new, then we create a culture that values sharing data, learning, and growing from one another. When all voices feel safe to share and contribute, the company thrives.
5. Focus on who you are becoming, not only on what you are doing.
In one of her inspiring graduation speeches, Oprah Winfrey speaks to the desire that so many graduates feel as they search for fulfilling work. “Your job is not always going to fulfill you […] Your job is not who you are, it’s just what you’re doing on the way to who you will become.”
This advice is relevant to our lives at every age. We always are becoming, and each day we begin again. During the days, weeks, or months when aspects of our job aren’t fulfilling, we can turn our attention to the lessons we are learning, the strength we are gaining, and the skills we can use in the future. Rather than increase our stress, we can embrace the benefits of the experience and remember that everything is a stepping stone to who we are becoming.
A common thread in all of these techniques is peace of mind through cultivating greater self-awareness: noticing what sparks joy when tidying, sensing when we need a break at work, pausing when we feel we’re getting hooked, not attaching our identity to our beliefs, and remembering that every experience is a chance to become more of who we wish to be.