Managing Stress in the Workplace with Kevin Hekmat – Virtual Gathering Recap

On November 2, 2022, Kevin Hekmat, a mindfulness and well-being speaker and coach, shared tips to manage stress in the workplace. “As a society we never learned to deal with or respond to stress,” Kevin noted. As a result, many people don’t properly manage their reactions to stressors at work, instead letting the frustration build. As a result, many people don’t properly manage their reactions to stressors at work and instead let their frustration build.

Kevin shared four active practices to quickly and effectively regulate stress.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Regulating breathing is one of the easiest ways to do a physical and mental reboot. When breathing normally, one nostril will be dominant, accounting for about 75 percent of air intake, while the other nostril contributes the remaining 25 percent. This naturally cycles back and forth throughout the day but can be quickly and easily manually reset. Place the thumb and a finger on either side of the nose. Pinch one nostril closed while breathing through the other. Repeat this process a handful of times, alternating which nostril is closed off with each inhale.

Though simple, focusing on breathing can help ground thoughts and give a sense of perspective. “It’s almost like taking a boiling pot of water off the stove,” Kevin explained. “It’s on high; we have our ‘stove’ on high all day long. Take it off for a minute and all of a sudden it stops boiling.” By taking a step back and removing ourselves from the “stove” for just a minute we can dramatically change our perspective and reaction to stressors.

Heart-Focused Breathing

Another breathing exercise Kevin recommends is heart-focused breathing. For this exercise, simply breathe in and exhale slowly, noticing how the chest expands and contracts, how the air fills the lungs. After a few methodical breaths, start to draw it out even longer: five seconds in, hold it, then five seconds out.

This method can self-regulate the nervous system while releasing dopamine, serotonin, and other “feel good” chemicals. It also stimulates parts of the brain that strengthen performance, decision-making, and focus.

Things begin to change when you realize things like clarity, focus, and peace are only one breath away.”

“Things begin to change when you realize things like clarity, focus, and peace are only one breath away,” shared Kevin. By triggering our brains to release these “feel good” chemicals we can actually force our bodies to change our moods.

Imagine Serenity

The final strategy is one most people are likely familiar with. “Go to your happy place” is something we’ve all heard before, but Kevin takes it a step further. He shared that research indicates that the body can be tricked into thinking it’s somewhere more peaceful. “Your body doesn’t fully know the difference between a real experience and an imagined experience,” Kevin argued. The greater the detail of the imagined scenario the more effective this method becomes. If the “happy place” is a beach, for example, think about the feeling of each grain of sand under your feet, the warm sun on your skin, or the sound of the waves lazily lapping at the shoreline.

By building an incredibly detailed imaginary world the brain is tricked into thinking it’s actually experiencing that world. It produces a similar emotional reaction and can be a great way to practice effective stress management.

Acknowledge the Discomfort

Kevin acknowledges that different practices might be seen as uncomfortable or weird in some work settings. It can vary company-to-company or country-to-country depending on workplace norms. When in a work setting that might raise an eyebrow at these stress reduction techniques, Kevin recommends acknowledging that at first you also thought it was a little strange but then go on to reinforce that it helps you reduce stress and work more efficiently.

Managing stress can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. As Kevin said, “The response to stress shouldn’t be to hunker down, the response is to alleviate the stress.” Using these techniques can help turn a frustrating situation into an opportunity.

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