By Tanmeet Sethi, MD – (Practices excerpted from Joy Is My Justice (Hachette, 2023) by Tanmeet Sethi, MD

If the world or your life is stressful, it will be challenging to stay focused and productive at work. While the support of a mental health professional, a supportive community and loved ones are essential, there are also simple tools you can use at work to have more clarity and focus.

When you are stressed, your brain’s threat centres in your midbrain are activated. Your brain sees you as only in survival mode. Your goal is to find ways to engage your executive function centres in your frontal cortex for decision-making and mental clarity. Let’s talk about three ways to do this.

   1. Emotion labelling

This is a simple but neuroscience-proven tool to activate your decision-making centres. If you are feeling a challenging emotion, the impulse is to stuff the emotion down so you can get work done. But the truth is that will only activate your stress centres even more. Since you can’t visit your therapist at work, think about this simple but sophisticated practice. Simply notice and label the emotion at hand. Fear…Sadness…Frustration, etc. Labelling the emotion dampens the threat centres and allows you to have more clarity in the moment. Then you can come back to that challenging emotion later when you have more time.

   2. Simple breathwork

You don’t always have time at work for a full yoga or breathwork session. But simply engaging in deep breathing through your diaphragm can activate your vagus nerve, the main nerve of your relaxation system. Breathe into your belly and allow your belly to soften as you exhale. Try a simple practice of box breathing where you inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4 and hold again for 4. Then repeat. Or simply inhale for a count of 3 or 4 and then double the length of the exhale. These practices are ones you can do at your desk or in a crowded office without anyone knowing that you are working on calming your body. In this way, you can tend to yourself even if you can’t leave work at that moment.

   3. Emotion bubbles

This practice is somewhat of a combination of the first two. Name the emotion you are feeling and imagine it is in a soft, billowy bubble or cloud in front of you floating up and away for the moment. It will be there for you to take care of later when you leave work but allow it to float away for now. You can do this for a few minutes with the same emotion in different bubbles or if you are overwhelmed by many emotions, you can spend time floating them all away as you take some good deep, belly breaths.

Takeaway

We often think self-care is when we step away from work but when stressful moments arise at work, you need tools to manage it in the moment. You can tend to yourself over and over through the workday so that you can have more clarity and focus and support your mental health. Always seek out the help of professionals but do not forget how much you can do for yourself as well.


About the author

Tanmeet Sethi, MD, is an Integrative and Psychedelic board-certified physician who has devoted her career to caring for the most vulnerable and teaching physicians how to care for these communities in the most humane and skillful way possible. She has spent the last 25 years on the frontlines practising primary care, global trauma, and community activism. Her first book, Joy Is My Justice (Hachette, 5/2/23) presses the conversation on Joy in a whitewashed wellness world to examine those who have been pushed to the margins of the conversation with its platitudes and explore Joy as a revolutionary healing practice and human right accessible to all of us. Dr. Sethi is a recognized expert and speaker in mental health and has spoken on two TEDx stages about using gratitude as medicine.
Social Media and book links:  Joy Is My Justice   |   Instagram   |   Substack: Beautiful and Brutal

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