Four ways to stop work getting on top of you

Well-being for people at work is an important element of any Awareness in Action workshop. We go into the whole issue pretty thoroughly but to get people started we introduce these four simple ways of taking better care of themselves.

1.Changing your routine

Routines can help us accomplish tasks quickly and efficiently but if we hang on to them too tightly they can also be a way of getting ourselves into a rut and closing down possibilities.

Neuroscience is helping us understand a great deal about our brains—particularly the discovery of neuroplasticity: the capacity of the brain to change in relation to experience. Take the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with pleasure, happiness, motivation and interest. When we engage in anything we like dopamine is released. However, from our teenage years onwards our brain’s capacity to produce dopamine decreases and if we consider that one of the characteristics of Parkinson’s disease is low dopamine production, we can see this is not beneficial.

Getting into a rut does not stimulate dopamine production—so it’s a case of ‘use it, or lose it’. It pays to make the effort to stimulate ourselves with small changes to our daily routine.

Take a few moments to think about your working day and ask yourself if there are some changes you could make. What about the journey to and from work—are there ways of varying it from time to time?

Then there is your workspace—can you bring in something from home to brighten it up, or change it around in a new arrangement? Think about how you spend your break times. What about making some useful new habits there—like cutting down on coffee, taking a breathe of fresh air, joining a work colleague for a few moments of relaxation, or taking the time for a few moments of silence?

The idea is not to replace one habit with another but to make it way of life to enjoy and stimulate change as part of your routine.

2.Taking more exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us but is seems it is also an excellent way to stimulate dopamine production. Maybe you do not see yourself becoming a member of a gym, or as wanting to do lots of organized exercise but there is still a lot you can do. A participant in a recent workshop shared that she had started taking her dogs for longer and more regular walks and was feeling tremendous benefit from it. Walking to work a few times a week, if it is feasible, can be another way. Doing yoga, attending a dance class—it’s a question of finding the type of exercise that works for you. Maybe you could start an exercise initiative during the lunch breaks in your workplace…

It helps us to feel more in control of our lives—instead of worrying about doing something about that extra weight, or flabby muscles we are actually taking action and it helps us to feel better about ourselves. Exercise time is also a time for oneself, and some quiet, reflective time. As soon as we start to feel the benefits our levels of well-being increase.

3. Making time to see friends

People always tell me that this is one of the first things to go when they are feeling too busy and work is particularly demanding and yet time spent with friends and loved ones is one of our greatest sources of support and nourishment. All the happiness studies show that the happiest people all have strong social networks and that it helps to be healthier and to live longer. From an evolutionary point of view, we would never have been able to survive as hunter gatherers without the strong social support of the tribe that hunted together, shared food and fought off their common enemies. We may not need to gather our food and fight sabre-toothed tigers any more but we all have worries, stress and problems that it can be wonderfully to supportive to discuss with someone who knows us well and cares about us.

If we have friends within work then it can just be a question of scheduling a lunch, or coffee break together a couple of time a week.

With friends outside of work, I have found the only way to ensure stuff happens is to sit down with my partner and our agendas every so often and schedule in times to meet up with people. At least that way there is a date to work with—even if someone has to change it, we can make another date. If there is nothing kin the agenda, there’s nothing to work with.

4.Expressing gratitude

We talked about gratitude in a recent blog posting but we can really sum up the benefits here by saying that appreciating what you have in your life and expressing gratitude for it helps us to move from a glass is half-empty kind of person, to a glass is half-full kind of person—with all the accompanying benefits to our well-being.

I recently met a man who had been a senior buyer for a large Irish retailer for almost thirty years. He was made redundant when the Irish economy crashed and at the time we met, was working as part of the airport assistance team in Dublin airport. He could have felt bitter about his change in status but in the half hour we spent together all he talked about was his gratitude for having work in an economy where over 35% of the workforce is unemployed and his pleasure and satisfaction in having such a worthwhile and interesting job.