How to Alleviate Your Work-From-Home Stress with Mindfulness
Illustration by Qian Shi
Meditation can heal us when we’re struggling to cope.
Work from home (WFH) has taken the world by storm. As the pandemic forced us to stay at home, our bodies got the well-deserved rest they needed. We could happily tuck ourselves in our blankets and pajamas (or sit on the beach, depending on where you live).
But just when we thought it was all roses, our minds started to go crazy.
With the office being just a click away, can we ever be off work? Not really.
There’s always an urge to refresh your email, check messages or think about the project due next week. Our office environments aren’t helping either — people expect you to be available on messages “just in case” shit hits the proverbial fan — which, let’s be honest, almost never does.
And while it all seems well-intentioned, it’s creating more stress than we can handle.
In fact, an article published in VerywellMind says that 41 percent of “highly mobile” employees (those who more often worked from home) considered themselves highly stressed as well, compared to only 25 percent of those who worked only on-site.
We might think that remote workers have the liberty to work from anywhere, but this lifestyle comes with its own challenges.
Moreover, WFH is here to stay. Many people who were forced inside their homes now have no plans to go back to their offices. Companies now realize that they can do away with office spaces for a variety of functions without sacrificing output.
So we’ve established two facts — WFH will probably continue for a long time and we need to develop the mechanisms that help us deal with the added stress.
How can we do that?
If I had a dollar for every time a person has reached out to me to talk about meditation since the pandemic, well, I could afford free groceries for a couple of months!
For me, the increase in stress levels is not just a macro phenomenon but also a very micro one — affecting my close friends and family.
My mother is a teacher. She used to be back in the afternoon from school and rest in peace knowing that at least there’ll be no one bothering her till the next morning. Now it seems she’s forgotten what rest feels like.
Most of my friends, fresh out of college, are working their first jobs for huge MNCs. Living in India, they start their day early and work till their foreign partners in the UK or USA do. Had they been in the office, they’d have the liberty of shutting their systems at 5:30 p.m and still have a life.
With exercise routines shattered, time spent with family significantly reduced, and hours spent in front of a screen risen, there’s little hope for all the WFH warriors.
I, on the other hand, exercise every morning, meditate for two hours a day and still get to write 4–7 articles a week aside from my day job. And while a lot of it has to do with the kind of place I work in, I do think I’m able to do these things only because of my strong meditation practice.
Here’s how it helps to tackle the WFH stress most of the world is going through right now.
Awareness Precedes Progress
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ― Amit Ray
You can’t solve a problem you’re not aware of. By establishing a practice of regular meditation, even with 5 minutes, twice a day, you see the areas that need work.
You can identify your toxic work habits to work more efficiently and also handle stress responses effectively.
Once you identify what causes you to sink deeper into your mental illness, whether it’s anxiety, depression, or even substance abuse, you can approach your problem with an informed mindset and position yourself above it when you feel yourself slipping.
Mindfulness gives you this awareness. It makes you curious about your mind. You start questioning “Why am I feeling like this right now?” The answers to these questions have the key to your growth.
It’s also a great way to come to terms with what you can control and what you can’t. By letting go of things out of your control, you can work better on things that are in fact, in your control.
And It Destroys Time Famine
“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” ― Albert Camus
Have you ever felt like there’s not enough time in the day? That if only you had 36 or 48 hours, you can get all your work done?
Then you, my friend, know what time famine feels like. Put simply, it’s the feeling of not having enough time to do everything you want to do.
Studies show that as a result of working in environments that promote “more is always more”, we instill a reward system in our minds. This reward system makes us peg our value to the amount of time we work for. In such workplaces and cultures, everything is urgent. And when everything is urgent, nothing is.
But the good news is that the feelings of time famine, are entirely dependent on our perception.
Think about the last time you stood in the queue. Specifically, think just before you felt the uncomfortable sensation that you avoided by pulling your phone out.
Didn’t time seem to slow down? I bet you were wondering why it’s taking so long. Yet, when you looked at your watch, only 2 minutes had passed. Whereas to you, it felt more like 10 or 20.
The point is this — the more we slow down to focus on the present, the more time slows down for us. The culprit here is awareness. The higher your awareness of the present, the more your subjective perception of time is altered.
And how do you increase your awareness of the present moment? Mindfulness.
Even though you might have more work than ever, you should take out time to meditate. It’s like the Zen joke,
“Meditate for 15 minutes. But if you don’t have time, meditate for 1 hour.”
If you take out the time to meditate, you’re subconsciously affirming time affluence.
Most people say they don’t have the time to meditate. And the way to get more time *is *to meditate. When you take out time from your hectic life to meditate every day, it’s like you’re saying to your mind, “Hey, don’t worry. We have enough time to get things done.”
This little subconscious affirmation slowly turns into a belief. It takes away all your feelings of not having enough time. Gradually, you’ll start to feel that time is abundant.
Self-Confidence Through Self-Awareness
“Get yourself outta boundaries created by your own self. Take a pause, look into yourself and start living a free life.” ― Bilal Shabbir
The more aware you become of yourself, the easier it is to set boundaries. Only once you know what your tolerance levels are, you can be comfortable in saying no to others without feeling insecure.
You see, many of us feel we need to work the long hours or to be available 24/7 to get ahead. But that’s just the fear of missing out.
Instead, first understand what you need to lead a healthy, and mindful life. This will give you a sense of security. From security comes the confidence to say no and set the right boundaries.
Research also indicates that “without self-awareness, people could not take the perspectives of others, exercise self-control, produce creative accomplishments, or experience pride and high self-esteem.”
So if you want to work on your confidence and set clear lines in your life, work on deepening your awareness.
Action, Not Reaction
“Take a deep breath and think twice before reacting. Reactions are like boomerangs, what you throw out into the world, will eventually come back to you.” ― Christine Szymanski
In times of stress, everything seems equally urgent. Even a small request from a co-worker can set you off to a long cycle of negative rumination and tension to ruin your day.
This happens because we often create stories in our heads about how others perceive us and what we think we ought to do. In reality, however, these perceptions don’t exist.
Meditation helps us realize that. It aids in the realization that we are not our thoughts. That even though we’re having stressful thoughts and imagining negative consequences, they’re not a reality — just a work of fiction.
There’s great peace in knowing that your thoughts don’t define you. Armed with this understanding, it’s easier to face the days with calmness and joy.
More and more people during these times are looking to improve their mental health. This change is apparent to me when friends who never would’ve tried meditation reach out to me for advice.
Instead of wasting time in front of Netflix or going for medications, try to meditate for a few minutes every day. Since we’re trapped in our homes, it’s one of those rare moments where you can’t give excuses to avoid meditation.
We have more time than ever. Let’s use that time to nurture ourselves so we can give our best in the areas in life that matter.
Struggling to meditate? Get your free 7 Day email course — Meditation 101: How to Start Meditating