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As many of us are easing into the swing of work-at-home, many of us are still plagued by distractions and inattentiveness.
Are the stresses of the moment getting to you? This past year, we’ve faced unprecedented challenges and new obstacles, especially when it comes to working. After all, how do you juggle Zoom meetings, organizing your office life, AND childcare from a spare bedroom in your house?
Many of us aren’t used to working from home, even though it’s a great privilege allowing us to continue to do our job as the pandemic rages on. Similarly, for those who’ve had to return to the workplace (or frontline workers, who never left) the constant stress and worry, combined with new adjustments to procedures, is deeply affecting our focus.
Let’s face it—performing at pre-pandemic levels is challenging at best and impossible at worst. Many of us are struggling to find the balance and beating ourselves up in the process. So, if you’re trying to adopt more mindfulness at work during these new, strange circumstances, here are some tips you should keep in mind.
When anxiety and overwhelm feel out of control, we may turn to Google to find some self-care tips to help us beat the stress. Almost every tip you see talks about self-care. But honestly? Who has the time for a bubble bath when our inbox is full, and notifications keep pinging?
But the good news is that indulging in real, radical self-care doesn’t require us to take time away from our work, go on vacation, or even spend a day at a spa. True nourishment and rejuvenation come from tuning in and engaging in ourselves and our lives. Focusing on ourselves is what really matters.
Now, being mindful and present may seem tough when we’re working from home, even in the best circumstances. These days with the constant stress of the pandemic, political, and social unrest, it’s especially challenging to remember to take time out for self-care. We may worry that our work with suffer if we’re not constantly “on.” We may already feel a productivity crunch and taking time to be mindful sounds like one more distraction.
Neuroscience shows us that when we tune in and get mindful, we feel better. Our satisfaction increases and typically, our work performance is improved as a result.
Real self-care brings us back into our lives. It meets us where we are, helps us accept what we’re feeling, and helps us engaging to enrich our lives. It’s not just about what we’re doing, but when. We don’t need to wait until the end of the workday or our lunch hour. Self-care can happen at any moment and any time.
The key is understating yourself and focus on your being. When we say we’re taking time out for “self-care,” what we usually mean is that we’re shutting down. We’re going to scroll through social media, or we’re going to zone out and binge watch TV. This isn’t actually self-care, but rather seemingly harmless habits that can rob us of our time, our wellbeing, and our satisfaction. We call these timewasters “soft addictions.” When we focus on these activities we aren’t really getting to the root of our concerns. We’re avoiding our feelings rather than engaging.
During especially challenging times, the smallest triggers can send us on an emotional rollercoaster. The grocery delivery service forgot your eggs, your friend missed your Zoom call or cancelled your plans, your boss sends you a terse email, or your child is having a tantrum.
Suddenly our world is spinning, and we are looking for a way to escape. Rather than addressing the issues at hand, we look at something distracting online. We go to the kitchen for a snack, or we flop on the couch and turn on the tube.
When we feel that rush of stress and emotions, we’ve become hijacked by our amygdala. Our stress levels are in overload and we’re in fight or flight mode. We experience a decrease in energy and resources, memory, performance, and productivity.
When we feel stressed out and unfocused there are several actions we can take to bring us back to a mindful, productive, engaged state. Some of these actions are simple. For example, you can take a phone call outside. Feel the breeze on your face, breathe in the scent of the flowers, see the sunshine, and be more present in the moment.
Any time we’re just aware of what’s going on, and tuned into our bodies, we become more mindful. Our bodies give us many cues about our feelings. Where are we feeling anxious? What are we trying to numb with our soft addictions? Listen to your body.
Another way to get more mindful at work and at play is to identify our feelings. When we identify and name our feelings, it tames our amygdala—that stressed out, primitive part of our brain that send us into fight or flight mode. By naming our feelings, we get back to higher thinking and functioning so we can more effectively deal with the items at hand. Say to yourself, “I’m afraid!” or “I’m hurt!” Naming any feeling—anger, fear, sadness, hurt, or joy, calms our brain and helps us orient and navigate back to the situation at hand.
We can create systems for soothing ourselves when stress feels like too much. When we notice that we’re starting to go off track or run off the rails, implement these systems to get back to the present. These actions can include calling a friend, hugging ourselves, hugging a loved one, going for a walk, listening to music, snuggling with a pet, massaging our head or shoulders, and even putting our hand over our heart. These simple actions help us feel soothed and comforted in times of turmoil.
When we have a task in front of us at work and we can’t settle into the present moment, one especially helpful thing we can do is set a time goal.
Use a timer or the clock on the wall and work in chunks of time. Focus for 20 to 60-minutes of uninterrupted work, depending on your task. During that time, avoid distractions, and really focus on what you’re doing, then take a short five-minute pause to reconnect with your surroundings.
Breathe in the air around you. Notice the scents. Sip a hot cup of coffee and hold the warm cup in your hands. Feel the chair against your back, and your feet on the floor. Feel your breath as you take it in and fill your lungs. Some people do box breathing—counting in for four, holding for four, breathing out for four. Massage your head to activate oxytocin and calm you.
When we work with students, we find that each lesson is more effective when we set an alarm on the hour and check in. We may take a joke break, a dance break, or a stretch break. In those moments of movement, students come back to themselves and feel connected again.
Above all during this time, we should be kind to ourselves. If we can’t focus, there’s no reason to beat ourselves up or compound our stress by slipping into a negative thinking spiral. When we tell ourselves, “I can’t focus! I can’t do this. I’m doing a terrible job and I’m going to get in trouble, upset my boss, or fail.” We’re setting ourselves up for failure and getting into a pattern of stinking thinking.
Instead of stressing out and seeking an escape, what if we reframe? What if we come back to the present moment, and tell ourselves that it’s okay? Everyone is going through a difficult time right now. We may feel hurt, sad, scared, or angry, but we aren’t alone. Many others are feeling similar emotions.
The last few months have been challenging for many of us, but when we’re kind to ourselves we remind ourselves that we have more power than we think. We are in control and we can choose to bring our minds back online and harness our energy into having a better, more mindful day.