Can Work Be Relaxing?

Not too many people would agree that "oh, yeah, my work is relaxing". For most of us, work involves plenty of stress. If we're in customer service, there's always a seemingly never-ending stream of customers with an abundance of problems that need to be handled yesterday. If we work in an office, office politics adds an unnecessary layer of stress to the normal daily stress of the work we're supposed to be doing. If we work for ourselves, there's the ongoing stress of lining up the next contract, even while we're dealing with the pressures involved in fulfilling the demands of the current project. And on and on.

If we work at a computer there are additional physiological stresses. Our bodies were not designed for prolonged sitting, nor were they designed for staring a computer screen for hours at a time. The highly complex and highly delicate structures of our forearms, wrists, and hands were not meant to be used for typing on a keyboard. Anyone can type for 15 minutes - that's not a problem. But typing for most of the day, day after day, week after week - that's definitely a problem.

These few work scenarios are common. We can recognize ourselves in the descriptions. No one would describe such circumstances as relaxing. But this is how we live. How can we turn what might be thought of as "lemons" into lemonade? Are there tactics we can employ in an overall strategy of causing our lives to be healthy, satisfying, and meaningful, as well as fun and relaxing?

The answer is a resounding "yes". But there is effort involved. We need to be creative and willing to take action on our own behalf. First, it's important to acknowledge the conundrum each of us faces every day. We are required to work to obtain food, shelter, and clothing for ourselves and our families. But the work that we're doing may not be our first choice. Or the second choice. Or sometimes even the third. Still, there it is. We need to work. This is where the creativity comes in.

Our work environment and/or our work itself may never be relaxing. However, we can actively choose to be relaxed. This is an ongoing process and occurs in the moment. For example, you can affirm "I am relaxed. My work is fulfilling and satisfying." And then, pretty soon, something happens to which you respond with tension. As soon as you come back to yourself and remember that you want to be creating a relaxing environment, you reaffirm your intention. This is very much like Zen or other practices which focus on centering. In Zen, the student is reminded to pay attention, to believe nothing, and that nothing is personal.

These powerful reminders can help us greatly in our intention to have our work be relaxing.1,2,3 The key is to take on the concept of practice. We are practicing centering. We are practicing self-awareness. We are practicing relaxing. And as we practice these things, our overall experience is one of being centered, relaxed, and self-aware, regardless of all the things that are going on around us.

1Chiesa A, Malinowski P: Mindfulness-based approaches: are they all the same? J Clin Psychol 67(4):404:424, 2011
2Zeidan F, et al: Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. J Neurosci 31(14):5540-5548, 2011
3Ledesma D, Kumano H: Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cancer: a meta-analysis. Psychooncology 18(6):571-579, 2009

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