Today, I am delighted to have Dr Orlaith O’Sullivan on the blog. She is a leader in Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice and has practiced mindfulness for over 20 years. Orlaith is an ordained lay member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, and the founder of two Dublin City and two international sanghas – mindfulness practice groups. Orlaith teaches mindfulness widely, including in the corporate environment, schools, not-for-profits and community groups.
In a recent survey, 71% of HR pros said that 2020 was the most stressful year of their career. Radical changes to working conditions and drastic changes to service delivery have put unprecedented strain on employees who report that they’re feeling more stressed and less connected.
We know there’ll be no simple, sudden return to normality. Since the day that our office came home and moved in with us, many people experienced a huge increase in online meetings, which demands more of our attention. Online, we must work harder to comprehend if we are being listened to and understood. It leaches our energy. We also have an absurd amount of visual feeds being received. Our brain – which pre-pandemic had an attention span of only 8 seconds – is easily sent into distraction. We end up multitasking – paying continuous partial attention to several areas – which expends yet more energy. The result? Exhaustion.
So, what actions can we take to support ourselves during this time? There is a wealth of recent research into what helps us to feel a strong sense of wellbeing. We know that what we repeatedly rest our attention on will change the structure of our brains. With a little care and diligence, we can establish good habits of self-care for life. Here are 4 daily acts that can build resilience, protect against fatigue, and keep us connected with the goodness in our life.
You might have noticed that spending an evening binging Netflix while scrolling endlessly was successful in passing the time but may not have helped us feel a sense of deep ease. Your body needs signals to know when it is an appropriate time to rest. With Deep Relaxation practice, we take deliberate steps to invite our body and mind to relax, let go and receive care. This is the single most helpful thing that we can offer to ourselves. Here’s a decadent 45-minute guided Deep Relaxation. Is it okay to fall asleep during it? You betcha!
#2 Start your day with intention
The moments that begin our day wield a strong influence over our whole morning. Before you get out of bed, you can take a moment to simply be. You can sense your warm body and enjoy a slow stretch. You can try a small smile (if this is hard, try not to smile – that usually helps!). Neurologically, a smile sends a powerful signal internally: I am safe. This moment is okay. Things are well. Finally, offer yourself a kind wish for the unfolding day. ‘May I move with ease and peace through each moment.’ ‘May the day be well.’ ‘May we all be safe.’
You can do this guided Superfood Start practice for a nourishing beginning to your day.
#3 Short-circuit the build up of tension during the day
Our day is peppered with moments where we are waiting on something else – make them work for you. The practice of micro-ease helps us to savor tiny moments of rest during the day.
For example, during log-in, you can ignore the whirring wheel for a moment. Close your eyes. Breathe in and feel your body’s weight against the chair. As you breathe out, let more of your weight release so that your back, seat, and thighs create a heavier imprint against the chair. Let yourself be fully supported for one moment. Then onwards!
You can also do this as a transition practice when you’re switching tasks or returning to your desk. Take a moment to help your nervous system to shake off accumulated momentum or stress. One breath is enough. Three breaths are transformative.
For an extended micro-ease, this Break in a busy day practice can refresh when you’re enjoying a hot drink away from your desk.
#4 End your working day
Many people come to me for help when they realize their job has soaked into their evening. They find themselves repeatedly checking email or chipping away at tasks. They’re half-present to their partner or child, not listening fully as they hurriedly respond to emails, unable to leave a reply until morning.
We need space from our work. We need it for our wellbeing (and our family harmony), but we also need it for our work. It’s like a peak athlete knowing that they need a rest day to stay in top shape.
When we give ourselves space, our brain begins to process what it has experienced that day. Without any conscious management, our brain will lay down memory, watch for any patterns, and explore solutions. (It’s why we often have an ‘aha!’ moment when we’re out for a walk or waking up.)
We need to bring our working day overtly and deliberately to an end. In the evening, you may feel a strong urge to check email or a work phone. That’s normal. It’ll feel uncomfortable not to act on the impulse, and that’s also okay. An average feeling lasts 90 seconds, so if you move to a different place, play a song, unload the dishwasher – chances are, that urge will have vanished. By getting comfortable with a little discomfort, we train our resolve, and the desire will appear smaller and smaller.
Here’s a post-work reset practice to help shake off your day and be present for your evening.
Robust and transformative self-care is about doing small things often. Explore what works for you – for example, the morning practice might feel easy and helpful. Start there. Repeat until it becomes very natural. Over time, it simply becomes your way of waking up for life.