5 Ways to Stress Less at Work

Business people sitting in bean bag chairs

By Robin Madell

As the pace of life becomes increasingly stressful and hectic, everyone is seeking relief. The concept of mindfulness, which was once the purview of a fringe minority, has now become front and center for many employers hoping to restore a sense of sanity to the workplace.

"Viewed one way, the growth of mindfulness in the workplace is the next logical step in the movement toward greater corporate social responsibility," writes author David Gelles in his new book "Mindful Work." Gelles notes that while forward-thinking companies have traditionally focused on a "triple bottom line" of profits, societal improvement and environmental consciousness, some are now adding a "fourth dimension" to this framework that incorporates greater concern for the well-being of their workers.

Some organizations are achieving this end through mindfulness initiatives. Practices to cultivate improved mindfulness, such as meditation and present awareness training, are being implemented at corporate giants, such as General Mills, Goldman Sachs and Google, as well as at tech startups, such as Etsy and Medium.

Chade-Meng Tan, Google's 107th employee and its official "Jolly Good Fellow" (his real title), started offering mindfulness training to his colleagues and now runs the Search Inside Yourself Institute. Like a growing number of executives, Tan believes that mindfulness – often defined as being focused on the here and now – will help you become a better co-worker and more successful person.

Software company SAP shows its commitment to employee well-being through the creation of a role dedicated exclusively to mindfulness training. Peter Bostelmann has served as director of mindfulness programs at SAP since early 2014, and his role has evolved to allow him the time to focus on helping his peers reduce stress and increase cooperation and team-building. "This has been a very positive experience for us, and other programs have taken off at Genentech and Intel," says Jenny Dearborn, senior vice president and chief learning officer at SAP.

Arianna Huffington speaks to the benefits of mindfulness, too. "What study after study shows is that meditation and mindfulness training profoundly affect every aspect of lives – our bodies, our minds, our physical health and our emotional and spiritual well-being," she writes in her bestseller "Thrive." "It's not quite the fountain of youth, but it's pretty close."

With this in mind, here are five exercises you can use to create more calm and less stress during your workday:

Start the day with reflection – not email. A sure way to stress yourself out is to do what many people do: Make your first act of the day reading email. Letting email launch your morning is tantamount to letting others hijack your mental outlook and mood before you've had time to set your own goals and emotional compass.

In "Moving the Needle," Joe Sweeney suggests a different approach, which summons the power of mindfulness first thing. "Instead of getting up in the morning and checking your email, settle into the day by taking anywhere from two to 20 minutes being quiet, either reading or reflecting," he writes. Sweeney also recommends ending the day with a positive reflection on your day, focusing on the best thing that happened and what you're most grateful for.

Catch a quick brain break. Dearborn suggests that you can learn to become more mindful in the office on your own, whether or not your company offers formal trainings. "If you are looking for a way to catch a quick brain break in the office, pause for a moment to pay extra attention to a repetitive or mundane task," she says. "When you're on a conference call waiting for someone to join, let your mind wander for a moment, and gently bring it back."

Pay attention to your actions. Dearborn also notes that having a clear mind can increase your efficiency as you work and may help you become more productive. Zeroing in on exactly what you're doing, rather than feeling stressed about it, can help create that clarity.

"Simply listen to the noises created by your work," she says. "Drown out the noises around you, and listen to the full sound of each click of your keyboard or sip of your coffee. Focus on the complete action, and be present in the moment; you'll find that the moment that follows has a crisp, clear quality to it."

Choose your companions wisely. In his book "How to Stress Less," Benjamin Bonetti advises disassociating yourself from people and places that amp up your stress level. While it's not always possible to do so in an office environment, you can make your best effort by attempting to minimize contact with complainers and seeking alternatives to toxic work environments.

"Remember, you become like those you mix with most," he writes. "The more you mix with stress-free, happy, motivated and enthusiastic people, the more you will adopt those positive traits."

Ignore battles that aren't worth fighting. With many daily challenges to choose from, attempting to tackle every skirmish can be a stressful and demoralizing time-waster.

In their book "The 5 Choices," authors Kory Kogan, Adam Merrill and Leena Rinne share a Japanese fable that sheds light on how to solve this issue more mindfully. In the fable, a young samurai challenges a legendary swordsman to a duel, but the master swordsman was weary of useless battles. So the master accepted the challenge, but took the young swordsman on a boat ride to an island for the duel. The master let the youngster off the boat first and then sped away from the island, winning without raising his sword.

"As we face the daily battles ... there are many battles we do not need to fight at all," the authors write. "If you are wise, you can win without fighting and leave a lot of stuff on the island, moving on to more important things."

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership and career issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries, including finance, technology, healthcare, law, real estate, advertising and marketing. Robin has interviewed over 1,000 thought leaders around the globe and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in both New York and San Francisco, and contributed to the book "Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success," published by Random House. Robin is also the author of "Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30" and co-author of "The Strong Principles: Career Success." Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter: @robinmadell.