For most professionals, the feeling of burnout is a familiar one. The energy that once filled your workday slowly trickles away. You notice your efficiency slip but cannot find the inspiration to regain it. The fatigue settles into your body. You can feel it in your back, your temples. Even if you entered your profession with lofty inspirations and a sense of fulfillment, you notice your inner dialogue around your job becoming increasingly negative. Experiencing burnout isn’t a reflection on you or your professional worthiness. It’s a consequence of a culture that encourages people to put work ahead of their personal needs. According to a recent trends report from the American Psychological Association, burnout and work-related stress are at an all-time high. That’s why it’s never been more important for professionals to practice mindfulness.
I’ve experienced the transforming power of mindfulness in my own professional life – and it took an intense period of burnout for me to finally ingratiate my mindfulness practice into my work life. As a full-time freelance writer, it’s easy to feel the pressure to keep up with the 24/7 news cycle or to view my downtime as time that I should be optimizing for pitching, writing, or growing my network - or at least tending to my full inbox! While I originally believed that those behaviors would lead to higher productivity and professional success, I found they only wore me down. I became my most productive, and most in touch with my creative sensibilities, when I incorporated mindfulness techniques into my workday.
Whether you work from home or in a crowded office; whether you’re your own boss or you’re part of a team, there are simple steps you can take to become more mindful at work.
1. Establish a morning routine that doesn't include your work to-do list
When we feel like we are always “on,” we are more susceptible to burnout – and more likely to bring work-related stress into our personal time. If you’re someone who starts responding to emails before the workday starts or goes through the to-do list with your morning cup of coffee, try postponing your engagement with work. Develop a morning routine that’s separate from your workday. Whether this means waking up ten minutes earlier so you can have some quiet time or deciding not to check your phone until after you’ve had breakfast, make your morning more about yourself and your needs.
2. Set a work-related intention
Intentions are powerful. You may already be used to setting intentions in your spiritual life, but they’re also incredibly useful in the professional realm. Before you start going through the motions of your workday, contemplate your professional desires. Contemplate the things you want to create and achieve. Think about how you want to relate to your work. Then, set an intention. You can return to this intention throughout the day to help ground you.
3. Take short meditation breaks
One of the best ways to practice mindfulness – the act of being aware, paying attention, and being present in whatever you’re doing – is through a seated meditation, where you take time to pause, bring your attention to your breath and the sensations in your body. Your day may be filled with meetings and appointments, but somewhere in the bustle of it all, you can find a few minutes to come back to your breath and meditate. Whether you practice for five minutes or one, this is an excellent way to create a powerful gap in your routine.
4. Incorporate physical movement into your day
Our own body is perhaps the best tool we have to practice mindfulness. At any given moment, there are plenty of sensations for us to stop and pay attention to. Take yourself for a walk and use that time to bring your awareness to the experience of movement. Whether you walk inside your office building or carve out some time to walk around outside, this practice helps you get back in touch with yourself and reduce stress.
5. Listen to your body
An advantage of mindfulness practice is that it helps us learn to listen to our bodies more carefully. Take notice of when you feel fatigued. What triggers the feeling? What can you do at that moment to show yourself gentleness and care? Rather than pushing yourself through the fatigue, without self-compassion, take a break if you can. If you have a flexible work schedule, do something else and return to your work when you feel more energized. If you don't have that kind of flexibility, pause for a healthy snack or a glass of water, or take a short mediation break.
6. Take conscious meal breaks
One of the key principles of mindful eating is that you eat without distractions. This means that your cell phone or your computer screen is not your lunch date. To avoid burnout at work, don’t eat your lunch in front of your computer. Honor your meal time as your own.
7. Utilize screen time caps and away messages
To prevent burnout, we need clear boundaries between our work hours and our personal time. It can be hard to create - and stick to - these boundaries when our technology encourages us to be “plugged-in” all the time. The good news is, you can use technology to create conscious boundaries. Set away messages on your email so that colleagues know you are off the clock. Set time limits on work-related apps so you can break your habit of checking them outside of work hours.
8. Practice compassion with your co-workers
When we are in the throes of burnout, it’s easy to stop seeing our co-workers as complex people, just like us. It’s easy to become irritated by them, or overly distant. You can find more joy at work and feel more connected to the present moment when you humanize your co-workers and practice compassion in your interactions with them. One way you can do this is to resolve to have one non-work-related conversation with them each day.
9. Use breathwork to slow down
Whether you’re in a packed conference room or your home office, your breath is always available to you, even when you’re immersed in an important project. When you feel overwhelmed, try pausing and taking three deep breaths. This helps you slow down, check-in with yourself, and return to the present moment.
10. Make a gratitude list
If burnout is bringing up negative feelings and thoughts about your professional life, you can counteract this by making a gratitude list. It might be challenging at first, and that’s okay. But by contemplating aspects of your job that you can be grateful for, you’ll likely start to experience a shift in attitude and perspective over time.
You can start your journey by incorporating just one or two of these practices into your work life. Starting small lays the foundation for meaningful transformation.