According to the World Health Organization, most of the global population spends about one-third of their adult lives at work.
For the average U.S. worker, that’s 90,000 hours over a lifetime. That’s a lot of hours. And a lot of opportunities to practice self-care at the office. Here are the 7 wellness habits to bring to work in 2020.
1. Breathe more deeply.
Over the course of the day, it’s easy to let breathing become more and more shallow. Neuroscientists have found that one of the quickest and simplest ways to cut stress at work is to counter that inclination by taking a minute or two to practice deep, slow breathing. Slowing and deepening the breath reduces cortisol in the body, calming the nervous system.
Bill Rielly, the Global head of Payment and Commerce Marketing at Apple, shared the start of his breathing practice at work in a Harvard Business Review profile: each time he sat down at his desk, he would take three deep breaths. That helped him relax so well, he extended it to two minutes and found he became more present, patient, and calm. And better at solving problems.
Square breathing is an exercise you can practice anywhere. (It’s called square breathing because you can visualize each of these actions as one side of a square.)
- Breathe in slowly until your lungs are full.
- Hold your breath for the same amount of time as it took to inhale the breath.
- Release the breath slowly for the same amount of time.
- Hold your lungs empty for the same duration.
2. Check your posture.
Many jobs require long hours spent seated. As we focus on our screens and tasks, we tend to slouch and hunch, which can affect digestion, cause headaches, backache and more. If you know you may be seated for a long stretch, set a timer to give regular reminders to gently lower your shoulders and glide them back while sitting taller.
3. Move your body.
In addition to checking and adjusting posture regularly, it’s important to move. Stand up, if you can. Stretch your arms and back. Use stairs, when possible. Invite colleagues for a “walking meeting.” Find a way, each day, to release some endorphins.
After the New Balance shoe company piloted a program encouraging employees to do some form of physical activity every 30 minutes during the workday, more than 40% said they noticed improved engagement and concentration.
4. Book your healthcare.
At the beginning of the year, schedule a year’s worth of health appointments in your calendar and treat those dates as important as any other meeting. Consider medical doctors, dentists, massage therapists, physiotherapists, psychotherapists, and any other practitioners on your healthcare team.
Psychotherapist Katharine Bainbridge says planning for our mental and physical wellness is essential. “Modern life is stressful and its pace is chaotic; one small way I encourage people to attend to their physical and emotional needs is to schedule regular care. If you have chronic back pain, put that monthly massage appointment in the calendar now. Don’t wait for a crisis. Make sure you’re supported.”
5. Get outside.
Researchers at University of Michigan found that taking at least 20 minutes in nature lowers stress hormone levels. Have a coffee break or lunch outside at least a few times a week. Count clouds, smell the flowers in the small park garden, feel the wind.
Some companies make the outdoors part of the workspace. Manulife Financial employs a horticultural team to tend the grounds of their Canadian corporate office, which include a ceremonial medicine garden to grow sage and sweetgrass for Indigenous community member use. People often walk through the serene property for meetings.
If there’s no garden near where you work, another option for adding more intentional nature time is to walk to the office. This isn’t always possible but when it is, the benefits can be significant. Datassist CEO, We All Count founder, and data scientist Heather Krause walks to work each day, 50 minutes outside each way, and says it’s made a huge difference in her mental and physical health. “I have tried and failed many times to commit to formal exercise routines. And this walk heals my back, my mind and my spirit every day. Once in a while I drive to work or to a meeting and I notice immediately that I don’t feel as well and don’t perform as well. I crave the movement and the time outdoors.”
6. Create an end-of-week routine.
A wind-down ritual can bring some relaxation to the end of the week and also make the start of the next workday more inviting. Consider clearing your inbox, tidying your space, and/or making a quick note of priorities for the next week. You might also take a minute to reflect on everything accomplished that week.
Zen Habits author Leo Babauta is a strong proponent of making reflection routine. “It gives you perspective. Often we are caught up in the troubles or busy-ness of our daily lives. A mistake or a high-pressure project or something like that can seem like it means all the world. It can overwhelm us sometimes. But if we take a minute to step back, and reflect on these problems, and how in the grand scheme of things they don’t mean all that much, it can calm us down and lower our stress levels. We gain perspective, and that’s a good thing.”
Meditation is one of the best ways to improve physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Studies find it can improve creativity, problem-solving skills, resilience, memory, and even our sleep and relationships. It’s no wonder Oprah Winfrey, Katy Perry, Paul McCartney, Ariana Huffington, and Tom Hanks are some of the people who famously meditate at work.
Here’s how to do a simple meditation:
- Find a comfortable position for your body.
- Close or softly focus your eyes.
- Breathe naturally.
- Pay attention to your breathing — just notice it. This noticing is the meditation.
- When your mind wanders — and it will — gently return your attention to your breath.
If you are just learning how to meditate, you might appreciate the support of a guided meditation in a mindfulness app like Calm.
Incorporating intentional pauses for well-being throughout the workday makes us happier at work and makes time at work far better spent.
Christi-an is Calm’s Community Manager, a mindful movement teacher, and a therapist-in-training. Calm is the #1 app for sleep, meditation and relaxation. ROOM recently partnered with Calm to launch new in-office booths for mindfulness and privacy at work. Learn more about Calm at calm.com.