The first thing you reach for in the morning is your smartphone. You browse through the news before hopping in the shower and planning out your day. Which project will be important to work on and what do you still need to purchase for that evening? Initially, your to-do list seems straightforward, but then a problem comes up, a meeting runs long and you keep being interrupted by calls and emails at work. At this point, you can literally feel the tension in your neck – you might even grind your teeth and question your entire schedule: “Is the timing realistic? Will I make it to the cinema on Wednesday? Wouldn’t it be better to put off my training session?”
Whether we mean to or not, we plan most of our days out in great detail – and yet we still don’t manage to do everything we wanted to. This is true of both our work assignments and the personal plans and hobbies that are important to us. We are often left with a feeling of stress. According to Martin Gerlach from Henkel’s occupational medical service, this is perfectly normal: “We all experience stress, at work and sometimes in our personal lives or with our families,” he said. “This isn’t necessarily harmful – it can actually have an energizing effect. We all have our personal limit, however, which is very important to take into account.” Gerlach has worked extensively on the topics of stress and mindfulness. According to him, a health risk begins to emerge when a person’s individual resilience capabilities are repeatedly overstretched.
“Mindfulness can help us to distance ourselves from negative stress. Nonetheless, people who regularly suffer from stress should also find ways to prevent harmful forms of it from occurring in the first place,” said Gerlach.
“People who are suffering physically from stress should act quickly and take the early warning signs very seriously,” Gerlach explained.
Red flags for negative stress include:
When conflicts suddenly pile up, or when someone loses the motivation to cultivate their hobbies and friendships, remedial action should also be taken swiftly.
People who are stressed know the feeling of being overwhelmed by their task load. Obligations and appointments turn into a maelstrom that is hard to escape from. The body goes into autopilot to protect itself. This is where exercises come in that help people to break through their stressful routines and focus their attention on what is really important. Mindfulness is a commonly used term in this context. It refers to a set of meditative techniques that retrain our perception and bring our consciousness back into the here and now – so as to take back control from the autopilot.
This is easier said than done. Natural breaks that allow us to pause for a moment, let our gaze wander and just be bored, hardly exist anymore. When we have to wait for something nowadays, we just grab our smartphone and fill even the shortest respites with activity. The result is that our mind never gets the chance to sit idle and regenerate. “Mindfulness exercises can create new islands that allow people to take a breath and be present in the moment,” Gerlach explained.
Mindfulness can influence the way we feel and behave under stress. Real mindfulness training is much more than just a self-improvement tool. It often helps people to obtain a different outlook on life, opens up new perspectives and taps into unsuspected potential. This not only prevents tension and headaches, but it can also decrease blood sugar, strengthen immune function and improve resilience. When someone is able to perceive their feelings accurately and understand their own reactions, they are often also capable of overcoming difficult situations like illness or grief more easily. This requires more than just taking a few conscious breaths in and out. On its own, however, this already constitutes a good exercise with which to begin training in mindfulness.
Take time for yourself
Sports, movies, business events – your evening schedule can quickly get very full. Reserve at least one night each week to be alone with yourself and take the time to reflect: How did your day, your week go? What do you want right now? Targeted reflection is a good remedy against tunnel vision and helps you to get back in touch with yourself.
Try new things
Novelty is every routine’s enemy. Step outside of your comfort zone and try something that you hadn’t had the courage or the motivation to do until now: eat alone at a restaurant, sign up for power yoga or get around to reading that huge book on your nightstand. If you can overcome the small hurdles, you’ll soon be clearing the big ones without a second thought.
Do nothing and daydream
Do you have a 15-minute break? That’s perfect for a short meditation. Turn off all distractions and just take in your surroundings without judgement: What do you hear? Where are you feeling the pinch today? Where is your train of thought leading you? Let it all in and don’t hold on to anything. This works on the sofa or in bed, in the park or even sitting at your desk if necessary.
Switch off once in a while
Reading news and chat feeds on your smartphone when you’re lying in bed may be convenient, but it isn’t healthy. That’s why experts say you should deactivate push notifications, plan finite time slots for catching up on emails and leave yourself enough time for analog activities. A healthy dose of digital detox fosters relaxation and focus.
Your breathing defines the rhythm for everything else, so it needs to flow easily. When you are tense, your breath tends to get short or shallow. To break out of a stressful routine or before beginning a new task, it helps to listen to your own breathing, consciously take a few deep breaths in, and breathe each of them out slowly.
It doesn’t even have to be full-blown sports – although physical exercise does benefit mental health – sometimes a simple walk can work wonders. A quick spin around the block will clear your head and help you organize your thoughts. Everything else will seem easier once you’ve tapped into fresh impulses and new perspectives.
Appreciate the wonder of the woods: studies have shown the healing power of nature for body and mind. Spending as little as five minutes in a wooded area boosts the immune system and increases your sense of self-worth. Natural stimuli like the chirping of birds or the sounds of the sea wake up the nervous system and help to keep negative sensory experiences at bay.
Be deliberate with your perceptions
Short breaks are important. We need them to process our experiences, and yet most of the time we use these moments to look at our smartphone. It’s much better to look up, look around you on the train or at the supermarket checkout counter, and really observe your environment.
Endure unpleasant experiences
We try to avoid what we don’t like – be it a person, a place or a task. Sometimes we don’t even know about the subconscious mechanisms at play in our revulsion for or attraction to something. Could it be a smell, a specific task or a jarring color combination? When you are deliberate about the unpleasant experiences, too, you learn to control your own attention.
Find enjoyment with all of your senses
Food influences our wellbeing: it isn’t just about what we eat, it’s also about how we eat it. Take your time when you sit down for a meal, share it with your family or your colleagues and let the tastes and smells inspire you – don’t click on, read or write anything at the same time.
More and more companies are investing in the positive effects of mindfulness. The conscious perception of ourselves and our surroundings fosters our concentration and helps us to deal with stress. Henkel takes mindfulness seriously, too, and promotes it actively through various offers for body and mind:
Healthy lunch breaks are organized weekly at corporate headquarters in Düsseldorf. Guided by certified trainers, employees can enhance their focus and relax in the Meditation & Yoga class – without even breaking a sweat. Colleagues who need physical exercise to switch off can take a Pilates class at lunchtime.
In Bridgewater, USA, there is even an independently run wellness center on the plant premises, which also offers yoga classes each week. Colleagues in Stamford regularly come together for a sun salutation exercise. Further south, in Puerto Rico, employees exercise together under the professional supervision of a fitness trainer after work.
”I was thrilled to discover that Henkel offered onsite yoga classes twice a week. After attending my first session I was hooked. I appreciated the depth of knowledge and commitment the instructor was able to share with the class. The end of every session ends in Savasana which allows the group time to mediate and just be in the moment. During this period I have the ability to focus my mind and gain clarity which assists me in making more conscious decisions in everything I do including being more efficient at work“, Kristen DeFelice, Human Resources Manager, Henkel Corporation Packaging & Consumer Goods, North America.
In Düsseldorf, Henkel social services organize so-called potential training, during which a psychologist gives participants tips for dealing with difficult situations. Those who are suffering from severe mental strain can find additional support from the company’s occupational medical service, with offers ranging from one-on-one counseling sessions all the way to psychotherapy referrals.
At many Henkel locations, events are regularly organized with experts who teach practical steps to increase mindfulness. Employees who work at the headquarters of Henkel North America Beauty Care Hair Professional in Culver City are taking a whole day this year to test the effectiveness of methods for slowing down, including chair yoga and sound bath therapy. In Rocky Hill, USA, so-called Lunch & Learn sessions are regularly organized alongside sports activities like running events and step challenges. This year, the topics ranged from gut health and healing back pain all the way to stress resistance training. Similar health initiatives also take place frequently in Düsseldorf, including inspirational talks and interactive courses from specialists to achieve a more conscious lifestyle. The concept is a permanent fixture on the annual calendar at many of our offices and production sites, so that every employee can have a chance to adopt a healthy and mindful routine in everyday life.