Endless emails, emergency meetings, project plans, client kickoffs—deadlines and daily responsibilities can pull us into a storm of stress.
It doesn’t matter what job title you hold; pressure and tension affect work performance and our ability to focus. When it’s getting to be too much, what do you do?
What if you could push a reset button and keep stress from getting stuck on “high”?
Everyone develops a skillset for coping with rough days. The big question is whether those techniques and habits are the best fit for you and your goals. On the front lines in a demanding career, it’s critical to actively improve how we respond to problems. The first step is self-awareness.
Project managers Brett Harned and Sloan Miller could write a book on stress and self awareness—life as a PM is nonstop. From intense pressure and demands to taking work home, each experienced a moment of realization that something had to give. They began investigating relaxation techniques and were soon setting aside time each day to recenter and achieve some calm, as they told us during a recent interview about meditation and project management.
Sloan and Brett are also organizers with DPM Philly (a group of digital PMs in Philadelphia) and decided that an “intro to meditation” class for local professionals was long overdue. When they asked Resource Guru to sponsor, we were happy to help—we love project managers and project teams!
Between tips for hacking your work/life balance and perfectly simple team scheduling in our app, we’re big fans of simple, easy, and stress-free—so let’s redefine what it means to run projects and take care of yourself.
Our bodies are predictable when stress increases
There’s a relationship between our heart rate and stress level. When we’re young, stress is generally low and associated with a low resting rate. As we mature and enter school and the workforce, increasing pressures and responsibilities result in faster (or even skyrocketing) heart rates.
Our bodies respond by going through some very specific physiological changes when under stress. We become more on edge, adrenaline is released, and we might feel panic or perhaps physically unwell. Sound like a typical day at work?
Being aware of these shifts and their triggers is key to regaining control and steering stress levels back into a manageable zone. It’s tough to recalibrate when you’re in back-to-back meetings or getting inundated by emails or Slack messages, but there are things you can do.
Take a deep breath—it’s going to be ok
When you’re feeling cornered by stress, your body is going through its “fight or flight” response but there’s no outlet for all that energy. What it needs is a signal that you’re either fighting or fleeing; a good way to trick your brain is to take very deep breaths. If you do this for 30 seconds, it will help your body de-escalate the reaction so that you can rebalance.
Fill your body with oxygen, just like you would by breathing hard after intense exertion (from fighting or fleeing). Inhale slowly and deeply—really expand your lungs to feel their capacity—then let go and allow the breath release naturally. Your brain will think you’ve done something to escape or defend yourself and that it’s finally ok to relax.
Take a break—escape from the noise
Constant sensory input keeps you on alert and in a state of reacting. If you’re already stressed, it’s adding fuel to the fire. You need a break from the barrage of noise and incoming requests.
Find the quietest place you can, whether it’s your car or a closet or the bench at the end of the subway platform. Turn off your phone and anything else that would give someone a way to interrupt (just knowing that someone could call or text at any minute will interfere with your ability to relax). Now, just sit.
Sit for 15 minutes—30 minutes, if you can swing it. Don’t read or work on anything; just focus on experiencing the quiet. We often forget what it’s like to be free from constant stimulation, so changing gears and being in a silent place will help you remember what “peace and quiet” really means.
Physical responses to stress are only one side of the story; our minds and emotions play a role, too. Mindfulness techniques and meditation are a couple of popular approaches that might be a great fit in your routine.
Rethink self-awareness & meditation
There is a strong scientific basis to support meditation and mindfulness as cognitive skills with physical and emotional benefits. Focused thinking can not only retrain your brain’s default settings, it can even structurally improve the tissue.
“…We can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, one of the neuroscientists who conducted a groundbreaking MRI study at Harvard University. Less than 30 minutes of self-awareness exercises each day was enough to generate a “major increase in gray matter density” in areas associated with improved attention and emotional integration, as well as decreased anxiety.
The key to meditation, as differs from typical, everyday thinking, is developing a greater ability to become increasingly present and self-aware—to become more mindful of thoughts and actions. Whether you decide to take a course, study on your own, or play it by ear and create your own practice from scratch, there are no rules or philosophical beliefs you have to follow to meditate “properly.” Dr. Hölzel tells how her own life was changed by meditation, and that it’s good investigate what’s right for you.
“Mindful Meditation in the Workplace”
Even though we all bring personal stories to the table, adding relaxation into your life is easier than you might think! You’re on a unique path, so try new things as you go and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. It’s all about finding your own balance, with no pressure to force it to happen or that it should look a certain way.
The demands of your career also affect what that looks like.
DPM Philly’s “Mindful Meditation in the Workplace” attracted pros from a variety of disciplines, all interested in the same thing—reducing stress. With so many roles represented, it made sense to find someone who deeply understands where each person was coming from; you can’t do better than a former IT project manager as your guide. Erick DuPree was the perfect choice to lead the event.
“Erick understands what it means to be a PM and what that stress looks like. That made him really relatable, and it allowed him to share valuable tips with us,” Brett shared. Erick is an author, instructor, and managing director at DIG Yoga Studio in Philadelphia. He also teaches corporate groups.
Using anecdotes and an easygoing personality to instill a sense of calm in the room, Erick began by explaining the science side of stress and how it affects our bodies and emotions. He then introduced simple and easy strategies that can be done anywhere, anytime someone might need to rebalance, especially if that means centering while at the office.
For more about Erick and to take a class from him if you’re in the Philadelphia area, check out his website at www.erickdupree.com.
Getting started: Relaxation and meditation resources
Today is the perfect time to start. Whether you want to take a course, read a book, use an app, watch some videos, or receive personal instruction, you have your pick of techniques to fit your interests and situation. Dive in and try some out!
Erick worked with us to put together a special guide—a cheatsheet for your desk! It’s filled with rebalancing tips you can try, clues that stress is creeping in, and activities to add to your daily routine.
Download a copy for free to keep handy at work or in your phone.
Courses and media
AudioDharma.org – Free podcasts and Introduction to Meditation courses. Check out their on-demand Introduction to Meditation series or sign up for an online, mentored Introduction to Meditation series that is offered several times a year.
The Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Course by Dr. John Kabat-Zinn brought meditation into mainstream medicine. Oprah.com also features two of his downloads you might want to check out: Suggestions for Daily Practice and Cultivating Mindfulness: Beginning or Deepening a Personal Meditation Practice.
The Science Behind Why Meditation Makes You So Much Happier – a helpful infographic from Positive HealthWellness.
Calm – iOS and Android (the website also rocks). It’s perfect for those 2 minutes you can take for yourself. They have timer-based sessions of 2-20 minutes, and also guided (talking you through reminders to breathe and stuff) meditations.
Headspace – iOS, Android, Amazon. Teaches the basics of meditation in 10 minutes a day.
Breathing Zone – iOS and Android. Guided breathing exercises to help reduce heart rate.
Paced Breathing – Android. Helps you modify and regulate your breathing.
Yoga Meditation Music – Android. Peaceful music that you can play in background while relaxing or meditating, even while using other apps.
Focus @ Will – iOS and Android (and a great website). Listen to a range of music styles that help you relax, concentrate or focus as needed.
Noisli – iOS. Easy mixing app for creating ambient noise.
Relax Melodies – iOS. Look for spinoff apps in this lineup! Customize a mix of ambient sounds and binaural beats frequencies.
Brainwave – iOS. Binaural beats and ambient noise to stimulate the brain and help you achieve your desired mental state.
SAM-App – iOS and Android. Helps you understand and manage anxiety. Includes exercises and tips.
Meditation — The Complete Guide
Set yourself in motion and stay motivated
Go at your own speed, because that’s the right speed. You’re in charge of shaping your personal, perfect way to practice.
Tell us what happens next! We’d love to hear your stories and tips for making work, projects, and life happier, so tweet us sometime!