Early last spring, how many of us thought that certainly by fall at the latest, life and work would return to normal?
Most of us.
However, with autumn around the corner, everything remains quite different, and it continues to change.
Life now requires near constant adaptation to shifting and uncertain circumstances. Families who are sending their children back to school and college are preparing for the possibility of their students’ return home, should circumstances require. Similarly, people who worked in an office in the “before times” continue to work from home, with return dates pushed farther out, and some companies discussing the possibility of a permanent work-from-home model.
While working from home is a dream come true for some folks — no commute, no draining social interactions, and you can get the laundry done by dinner time — for others, it is a real struggle. The social ties we develop with our colleagues contribute to a sense of belonging, which is crucial to our well-being. So especially for people who enjoyed a large part of life’s social interactions at the workplace, the shift to working from home can impact a sense of connectedness and contribute to a sense of isolation.
Isolation and its relative loneliness are implicated in several things we want to avoid: burnout, depression, and even earlier death. How can we recognize the signs that we may be struggling with working from home?
Reduced ability to focus is the canary in the coal mine for many problems. Coupled with waning interest and productivity — or worse: disillusionment, exhaustion, and frustration — you have a clear indication there is a significant disruption or imbalance in your body-heart-mind system.
As a mindfulness teacher, I help my clients learn to regularly connect with the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of their being so they are aware of how they are doing. Sustained mindfulness practice builds self-awareness and can reveal changes and trends that need course correction.
In this way, mindfulness practice is a monitoring tool for our well-being. Without it, we might not catch or understand the signals our own bodies, hearts, and minds are sending us.
While mindfulness is an inherent psychological faculty we all possess, I recommend learning mindfulness meditation from a trained teacher who can provide the methods and support necessary for establishing and maintaining a regular practice. Only 10 minutes a day can make a big difference in how readily we can attune to ourselves and the life around us.
While getting started with a practice can feel like a hurdle, once you’re over it, the only thing you need to do is continue. That’s it. And the motivation to do so will arise naturally as you notice improvements in focus, relationships, and your ability to manage stress.
But what if, using mindfulness, you notice that against the backdrop of these troubled times you feel increasingly out of sorts, unable to focus, frustrated in your relationships?
First, seek outside help, such as a doctor, therapist, or coach. We can’t always feel well on our own, and a trained professional will be able to support your journey toward wellness with evidence-based and time-tested methods.
Second, check in with a mindfulness teacher. It may make sense to adjust something about your practice, perhaps even the method you are using. When difficulties in our bodies, hearts, or minds plague us, mindfulness might be contraindicated, and a different type of meditation could be useful.
For example, lovingkindness meditation, a sister practice to mindfulness meditation in which we stimulate a sense of goodwill, is a great way of antidoting a sense of disconnection.
While the formal practice involves repeatedly inwardly reciting phrases to help cultivate a sense of friendliness and ease toward yourself and others, you can use this practice informally, at any time. Simply pause in your day and silently wish yourself and your co-workers — those you like and those you have a difficult time with — safety, health, happiness, and peace.
Say “May we be safe, healthy, happy, and peaceful.”
Say it again. Then a third time.
May it be so!
Guest post by studio BE mindfulness teacher Sarah Jane Shangraw.
Sarah Jane Shangraw, M.S., E-RYT 500, YACEP, is a student of the buddhadharma who teaches mindfulness meditation and Insight Yoga in the Boston area and beyond. Using Buddhist, yogic, and western psychological approaches, she guides individuals and groups in alleviating stress and training in awareness for the greater good.
Find her at www.sarahjaneshangraw.com and @sarahjaneswell.
Feature photo by Zubada/Adobe Stock