As our society evolves, so does the demands on the people that live within it. That often means higher expectations at work, more pressure, more stress, and all the negative side effects that more stress brings about.
Oftentimes, we experience the stress reactions as habitual patterns that no longer can be differentiated from our everyday existence. In other words, stress becomes our “normal” state without us even knowing it. HOWEVER…this does not need to be the case! As with any change of habit, awareness needs to be present for any sustainable change to occur.
Lets take an example from someone who works at a computer with a demanding boss. We are often asked to do multiple things at once, after all, we are a multi-tasking society! You may need to distribute an email to a client, send a progress report to a boss, and turn in an expense report all by the end of the day…and its 4:50!
What does your body look in this situation? Are your shoulders up by your ears or relaxed? Is your breath deep and relaxed or is it constricted and shallow? Is your mood calm or anxious?
There is obviously a strong connection between the mind and body, when we have consistently negative moods, our body exhibits imbalances in the form of muscle tightness, compromised immune system, and even disease. However, by brining awareness to our mind, breath, and body, we can begin to shift our reactions to life’s inevitable demands and in turn affect positive change in our mind and body.
The Breath as a Bridge Between the Mind and Body
The breath acts as a bridge between our mind and our body. The tense shoulders from rushing to finish the emails under time pressure, can lead to a shallow breathing pattern in the chest, which then can affect the mood state turning into a feeling of anxiety or other detrimental emotion. Are you able to leave that anxiety/frustration/burnout/etc. at work or do you take it home with you? Instead of unintentionally allowing the tight shoulders and demands at work to turn into an emotional end result that you are not happy with, brining awareness to your particular response to situations and choosing new behavior, can lead to a more balanced stance towards your work and better boundaries with your emotions.
Using the Breath to Break the Stress Cycle
Take time to notice if your shoulders are completely relaxed or if they are tense and up closer to your ears. The first step is to notice where you hold your stress in the body, and then engaging in practices that help to alleviate that stress. When you are in your car leaving work, or some other private space after being triggered by a boss or a stressful situation at work, try these simple breath techniques. Try each one and see which is best suited for your personality and your needs.
1. Inhale and lift your shoulders up by your ears, and as you exhale slowly allow the shoulders to descend down and let out a deep sigh. Be as loud as you need to be given what you need to let go of and the amount of privacy you have. Repeat this 3-6 times or as much as you need to let go of some tension. Make your breaths very deep and long, slowly releasing as much tension in your body as you can.
2. Do the same inhale and bring the shoulders by the ears, but this time allow the shoulders to drop suddenly and say “ha” as they drop down. If this feels too forceful, stick with the first technique. Sometimes this drastic change from shoulders up to down, really shows the stark difference between holding tension and releasing and allows you to break up some of that stuck energy in your shoulders.
3. The last technique begins like the first two, but instead of saying “ha” once, you say “ha” and bounce your shoulders 5 times and say “ha” each time. Try this by yourself, or in public if you are open like that , and allow the “ha’s” to turn into a belly laugh where you relax your face, relax your shoulders, and reframe your perspective on the situation.
Of course these techniques are not going to “solve” your stress problems, but they do give you a way to bring awareness to how you hold your body as well as ways to help dissipate stress once it becomes apparent to you. From this calmer space you can take more perspective on some deeper patterns contributing to your stress such as being a perfectionist, not being able to say no, poor time management, etc.
Office ergonomics are also a contributing factor to work-related body tension. Here are some quick tips to a balanced work station:
1. Sitting at your desk, close your eyes, lift your heart and descend your shoulders, and sit straight and tall in your chair. Allow your head to be directly over your shoulders and look straight forward (even though your eyes are closed). Then gently open your eyes. You should be looking at the center of your computer screen from this position. It allows the neck to sit directly on the shoulders rather than slumped forward and down. Place a couple books or other props to get the screen to this level.
2. Have your knees be below your hips in your office chair. This may mean that you need to raise your chair up higher and perhaps have a foot rest that is angled towards you. If you have a ergonomics department at work, call them! If not, be creative and simply sit the chair a little higher, sitting closer to the front of the chair so your knees can be below your hips. This allows your spine to be more effortlessly straight.
3. A final tip is to make sure your elbows are by the sides of your body as you type. If the elbows are forward of the sides, you are also bringing your shoulders forward and creating stress on the upper back. This stress then affects the muscles at the base of the neck and causes more strain in the body, which leads to shallower breath, which leads to emotions you don’t want, and on the story goes.
4. A final tip would be to practice the above breathing techniques to relax the tension that is present and bring more awareness to your body to not allow existing stress to get worse. This is of course a continual practice, but the longest journey starts with a single step. You can begin to make a shift in how you feel at work. I will be filming a short video for yoga at work in the September issue of my newsletter, “Life as Practice” so be on the look out for that. If you have not subscribed to my newsletter yet, you can by going to www.integralwellnessmb.com/Newsletter.html I will also continually be having more info on how to stay as balanced as possible at work through different practices and awarenesses.
My plan is to make these posts a bit shorter in the future, there is just so much to say. I plan to post again by the end of the week with some more tips to help you live a more balanced, passionate, and radiant life. I hope you are having a beautiful day!