There’s a lot of data out there showing Americans are overworked.
And that’s not because Europeans are slackers. It has more to do with the very high value American society places on working hard, achievement and the accumulation of wealth.
We spend as much time as we possibly can at work so we can have a better car, a bigger house and more stuff, and we’re told it will make us happy.
If this kind of vigorous workload is the norm in the US, it’s no wonder we’re all so stressed out.
Overall, stress levels for Americans have steadily increased, especially in light of the current political climate.
After the 2016 presidential election, Americans experienced their biggest stress spike in a decade. Even before the election, millennials in particular reported higher levels of stress than Gen-Xers or Boomers.
Between higher stress and longer hours at work, many people are looking for new ways to de-stress.
I’ve found it really helpful to step away from the office for 20 to 30 minutes each day to meditate.
As the weather begins to warm up, practicing walking meditation on your lunch break can be a fantastic way to de-stress while also being more active in the process.
Here are some basic steps to help you get started:
1. Start by taking a mindful stroll outside around your workplace.
One of the benefits of working in Manhattan is, I can easily take a quick walk around the block without driving anywhere. Don’t walk in any particular direction; just wander and see where it takes you.
2. Walk at a moderately slow pace.
Don’t walk so slow that you draw attention to yourself, but certainly don’t walk as fast as the normal, rushed New Yorker.
Go slow enough that you can be aware of each step you’re taking.
3. As you walk, focus on each breath you take.
Notice each breath in and each breath out.
It may help to match your breathing with the steps you take. For example, count six steps as you breathe in and six steps as you breathe out.
4. Try to be aware of each moment.
Instead of focusing on the stream of thoughts, worries, plans and judgements that dance around in your head, notice the physical sensations around you.
During my walks, I listen to the birds chirping, the cars honking and the passersby speaking in a multitude of languages.
I feel the breeze. Once in a while, I catch some delicious aroma floating out of a restaurant.
Wherever my vision falls, I try to notice whatever it is I’m looking at in that moment.
5. Stay present.
Each time you feel your mind wandering to the worries in your head, gently draw yourself back to the present moment.
Use your breath or the sounds around you as an anchor.
Don’t be discouraged when thoughts creep back into your head. Instead, recognize them and let them drift away.
This kind of mindful walking can be effective for letting go of your thoughts and dropping the to-do list for a few minutes.
In some ways, it can be easier than a formal sitting meditation. There are so many things to hold in awareness: the sights, the sounds, the movement of other people.
There isn’t as much empty space for distractions and stress to creep back in.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the cascade of emails, meetings and action items at the office, try taking one of these walks on your next lunch break.
You might find that you come back refreshed, focused and ready to conquer the afternoon.
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