Feeling burnt out? Ways to cope when meditation isn't your thing.
By Rebecca Kronman
The first person to appear at my door wanted to dish about the Golden Globes fashion. I was eager to oblige. The next wondered when and where I was going to lunch. Following that, a therapy client inquired about switching to a different appointment time. In between, my smartphone beckoned often, lighting up my device with alerts that I couldn’t seem to ignore, no matter how banal. I was like a cat bouncing around after a laser pointer, following the bright light wherever it led me. Getting back to work after these distractions was difficult, and each time I had to backtrack.
One thing was abundantly clear: hardly anything was getting done. At the end of the day I was completely exhausted, and completely behind on my work. For a long time—years—this is how I worked: chasing the flashiest thing that caught my attention, without taking the time and space to prioritize what was truly important or time sensitive.
Outside of the office, I was a regular yoga practitioner. Like many people, I viewed it as an “escape” from the real world, a place of peace and quiet that existed from 7-8:30 PM on Thursdays and 10-11:30 AM on weekends. I also began learning more about meditation; again, I viewed it as a standalone moment of seated silence to be practiced in a certain place at a certain time in complete silence with no one else around and darkness except for a special candle. Unsurprisingly, meditation became a daunting task that was very often left incomplete.
The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, which means to join (as in to bring together the physical, mental and spiritual self). When I began studying mindfulness, this concept became clearer to me. Mindfulness teaches that meditative moments can come throughout the day, not just on the yoga mat or meditation cushion. Over time I began to understand how a meditation and yoga practice were not just an escape; the lessons from these practices could be incorporated into the “real world” –including work—without necessarily adding in a lengthy seated meditation practice or yoga poses in the middle of the work day. Here are some of the things that I learned:
You can have a meditative practice without sitting still.
In fact you don’t even have to be sitting in a special place. You don’t even have to be sitting! Applied to the workplace, this might mean that you take a brief moment to notice your posture at the desk chair in front of the computer. Or you might notice the feeling of your feet as they touch the floor while you walk down the hall to your next meeting.
Multitasking is not a special strength to be added to your resume.
It’s a habit to try and avoid. Even the simplest tasks can’t be done to their fullest potential if you’re doing more than one thing at a time. For example, take that walk down the hall to your meeting. If you were to check your email on your phone as you walk, you wouldn’t be able to experience your body as it moves through space (and you wouldn’t really be able to concentrate on your emails very well either!).
Setting aside time to make a list when you’re very busy seems like a paradox.
“How can I spend time making a list when I’m so busy?” What I learned is that the time I spent making a careful list paid off in multitudes as my productivity increased, as did my ability to prioritize.
By no means did these practices make me a workplace Buddha.
I am challenged each day by how to organize my time, be more productive and cope with stress in a healthier way. Some days I am overwhelmed by partially completed projects and amazed at how much time I’ve wasted on things I didn’t need to do. In those moments where frustration threatens to derail me altogether, I find myself relying on the wisdom of meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, who speaks about the meta-lesson of meditation. In our meditation practice as in our life, we learn to start over. “The invitation to begin again (and again and again) that meditation affords is an invitation for the practice of self-compassion — to heal through letting go rather than harming ourselves with cycles of self-doubt, judgment, and criticism.”
Need more tips? I’ve put together a webinar on adding mindfulness into the workday. If you’re working on being more productive, less stressed and being more purposeful about shaping your priorities at work, come have a look. You can find it here.
Rebecca Kronman is an LMSW therapist and student of mindfulness practices. In addition to her private practice, she has provided training for staff at a variety of workplaces on boosting creativity, managing stress, conflict resolution, trauma, understanding and working with mental health diagnoses, substance abuse, building empathy and effective listening.