HR Sanity: Mindful practices to reduce stress at work – Interview with Julia Quezada & Shanel Ferreira Jürgensen Gouveia from 7Mind

by Marie Terhechte

Did pressure on HR employees increase during the pandemic due to unexpected additional tasks?

Absolutely. Just keeping up with the constant rule-changes made us sweat. Many people experienced loneliness and depression caused by lack of physical contact due to lockdowns, while parents had to deal with the stress of daycare and unforeseeable school closures. The chance of miscommunication and missed information increased because people were meeting and speaking remotely, and it became clear that team cohesion suffers when we only see each other in 2D.

On top of that, people actually work more when working from home as they’re missing those face-to-face interactions and coffee breaks that come with working in an office. Our People & Culture team tries to help absorb that, which isn’t easy as we’re social beings and isolation drives us crazy. 

What internal measures have you implemented to address mental health and better stress management (especially in the HR team)? 

We want to create a culture where everyone is heard. We have an open door policy for all topics, which we call “Bring your whole self to work.” The People & Culture team put an emphasis on listening as it’s our job to support the entire team. We’re normalizing the idea of taking sick days for mental health to make sure everyone is seen, heard and supported.

Three times a week we stand together as a team, meditate and share what we’re grateful for and how we can support each other. In general, I get the impression that everyone is listening to each other. 

We’ve also implemented bi-weekly 1:1s across all departments. This discussion is about well-being, personal goals, wishes, uncertainties and fears – operational tasks aren’t on the agenda.

How can companies make sure employees aren’t left behind when working remotely? 

This can be difficult to implement as we depend on employees coming to us with their problems before they get out of control. This requires a foundation of trust, and as remote meetings are structured and time-limited, there’s not always time to talk about emotional issues and the atmosphere isn’t always conducive to doing so. 

As a result, meeting in person, or online in a 1:1 or 1:2 meeting is key. We encourage this as much as possible alongside the bi-weekly 1:1 meetings we’ve already implemented. However, these meetings are also limited in time and there’s still screens in the way. In our opinion, face-to-face meetings are still the best way to communicate.

Our team has access to a coffee chat app and new 7Minders also get 1:1s with HR, a casual 1:1 with one of the founders and a weekly meeting with an on-boarding buddy until they get settled in.

Relationships break down quicker when there’s no physical contact, and it’s easier to form negative opinions of employers, managers or colleagues when you’re unable to meet in person. This results in higher staff turnover. With this in mind, we aim to support growth in the area of self-reflection through mindfulness practices and other activities. Wellness and mindfulness is crucial when working remotely, and helps people take things less personally and feel centered in the midst of chaos. 

Even before Corona we offered daily meditation to the entire company, with many employees offering to give guided meditations during this time. This is a small luxury within the daily work routine. 

How does meditation help people cope with stress? 

Meditation paves the way to dealing with stress in a healthy way. Stress is a fact of life and isn’t going anywhere, and is caused by many external factors. We have no control over these factors, but meditation sharpens our perception of ourselves, our reactions and our emotions. Meditation helps us identify what is causing the stress, which in turn helps us combat it. One person might struggle with deadlines, another with planning, another person might have too many meetings. Recognizing what causes us stress is an important first step towards changing something.

For more information, read our psychologist Siri’s latest Science Snack in 7Mind Magazine.

When we’re stressed, we’re on autopilot. A stimulus hits us and we react to it without thinking. I’m sure many people are familiar with these impulsive reactions. Meditation calms our stress reaction, so we can identify the cause and be less reactive. In this way, we can regain power and control over how we respond to stressful stimuli.

And last but not least, every stressful experience requires a recovery phase. If we let one stress reaction pull us into the next, we experience chronic stress, the kind that really erodes our mental and physical health. Mindfulness exercises or meditation are a great way to recover from a stressful experience, and if you’re short on time, most exercises in the 7Mind app take just 7 minutes.

Can you share 3 – 6 meditation exercises that you integrate into your daily work routine? 

Mini meditation for when you’re on-the-go 

When you’re on the road, you’ve got one goal in mind – to get to your destination. But why not turn travel-time into you-time? With this mini-meditation you can reach your destination in a relaxed way, whether you’re getting there by train, bus or plane. 

Close your eyes if possible. Focus fully on the sounds you can hear right now. Notice the loudest sounds first, then try to hear the soft and subtle sounds – a soft giggle a few seats away, the quiet breathing of your neighbor, the monotonous hum of the engine. How many sounds can you count? Memorize the number and take slow, deep breaths as you absorb the sounds. You can find many meditations like this in the 7Mind app.

A breathing exercise for calm and balance 

“Just take a deep breath” is popular advice for a reason. The connection between breathing technique and stress reduction is scientifically proven, so try this breathing exercise to find calm and balance in a short amount of time.

Place your hands on your belly and breathe into it. Feel the contact between the palm and the abdominal wall, inhale deeply a few times and exhale completely. Consciously direct your breath past your ribs and into your abdomen. Feel the space that your breath occupies in your belly. Notice how much attention this simple exercise requires – this is how you anchor your focus. 

Mini meditation for the workplace 

We’re often under the most amount of pressure in the workplace. Whether it’s deadlines, meetings, requests from colleagues, customers or patients – it’s easy to get overwhelmed. At 7Mind we start our meetings with one minute of silence. A gong sounds and we close our eyes together for one minute – then we start the meeting or conversation. Whatever environment you work in, give yourself or your team a minute after they arrive to relax. You can find this exercise in the 7Mind app. 

Breathe like Darth Vader: an exercise for more energy

Ujjayi breathing is one of the most widely used breathing exercises to accompany asanas in yoga. When done correctly, this technique produces a flowing or puffing sound when you inhale and exhale with your mouth closed, which comes from the constricted glottis. The breath should be strong enough for it to be audible. This exercise calms the mind and increases your energy. By making your breath audible, you feel the speed, depth, and nature of your breath and therefore your mind.

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