Columbia Business School

Finding Your Inner Zen During Stressful Times

Presented by Columbia Business School

Finding Your Inner Zen During Stressful Times

No matter who you voted for or your opinions on the issues, most people can agree on one thing: this election season was stressful. Add to that the tensions of the upcoming holiday season (can you believe it’s that time again?), plus the normal pressures of day-to-day life, and you or your employees may be experiencing some serious angst.

“Anecdotally, it feels like we’re seeing people at some of their highest stress levels ever,” says Liz Wilkes ’13, founder of Exubrancy, which brings wellness programs like massage and guided meditation to workplaces. “We had our biggest day ever in the week after the election,” she says from her headquarters at the Columbia Startup Lab in Manhattan. “A few days after the election, one of our meditation teachers texted me saying she felt especially privileged to be teaching yesterday amid all the strong post-election feelings.”

Here, Wilkes offers her best advice for finding your inner Zen during this hectic time.

Do you have any stress-beating tips for the employer who may not have the budget to get everyone on the team a massage or guided meditation session?

“I think that even just calling out that it’s a stressful time and allowing for a bit more flexibility can go a long way. We’ve had clients where the CEOs have reached out to entire teams saying, ‘This is a challenging time. Here are resources available, here are affinity groups that exist in our organization, and here are [other] resources available through our healthcare provider.’”

What can individuals do to manage their own stress?


“First, don’t feel like you have to be super ambitious with cultivating new habits during this stressful period. Just allowing yourself to breathe during the work day and taking moments for yourself can go a long way. One technique that is highly effective is taking three deep breaths and setting an intention for each. The first is to be present in the moment, the second is to relax your body, and the third is to invite joy, which might mean physically making yourself smile. If you are considering exploring a more formal meditation practice, I’d recommend starting with the Headspace app, which offers a wonderful, structured introduction to mindfulness meditation.

“Another simple tip is to commit to staying hydrated. So often being dehydrated can manifest as additional anxiety. You can even buy a pretty water pitcher to keep on your desk. Finally, taking a moment to walk around the block during the workday can really have an impact on your mood, especially if you work in a space where there is not a lot of sunlight. Though, walking indoors is also a mood lifter — try going to get coffee on a different floor if you’re trying to sneak some extra walking into your day!”

What kind of impact can collective stress have on a workplace environment?

“We’ve seen so much research about how stress has an enormous impact on people’s productivity. According to some estimates, stress costs US businesses as much as $300 billion per year in absenteeism, diminished productivity, and other things.”

What are some of the benefits of bringing wellness programs to the office besides reducing stress?

There is a huge benefit to group meditation sessions. They can help workers cultivate empathy and compassion for their colleagues. So when companies are looking for ways to bring people together and make them feel connected during an especially divisive time, meditation is a particularly valuable tool. In general, office wellness programs can help attract and retain great people, increase productivity, and reduce health-insurance costs for employers. But stress reduction is probably the number-one pain point that’s mentioned when companies reach out to us.”

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