6 Ways to Work Meditation Into Your Busy Day

A young woman meditating.

Working with young people who experience trauma can affect your ability to concentrate or stay calm in stressful times. Mindfulness experts say that adding a short meditation practice to your routine—something as simple as 5 minutes of focused breathing each day—can help you stay present with clients and better handle negative emotions that can lead to burnout.

“On airplanes, they always say that when the oxygen mask falls, you’ve got to put it on yourself first and then you take care of the child,” says Jeffrey Zlotnik, founder and chief executive officer of The Meditation Initiative in San Diego. “If [family and youth workers] aren’t taking care of themselves, how are they ever going to be in the right mindset to take care of kids?”

Focusing on a single object or activity like breathing can train you to stay focused during individual client interactions, Zlotnik says. It can also help you let go of feelings of sadness or frustration that can build up over time. 

Mindfulness can also help you become a better listener, says John Orr, executive director of Cincinnati's Mindful Youth Inc., by learning to better manage stress and to consider the ways different people process their experiences.

6 Tips for Making the Most of Mindfulness

1. Take five. Zlotnik suggests meditating for 5 minutes each morning to get into the practice of focusing your attention. Those sessions can go longer or take place at other times, but it’s often more manageable to make a small addition to your morning routine. Start by sitting down and concentrating on your breathing, he says. Pay attention to the rise and fall of your stomach or chest. Don’t worry if you get distracted here and there. Just keep returning to your breath.

2. Don’t expect to turn off your mind. Zlotnik says you also won’t feel like you’re floating in the air or that you’ve stopped thinking entirely.

3. Acknowledge and move forward. “The pattern for most human beings is when we experience something that is uncomfortable or unsettling, we want to find ways to escape that feeling,” Orr says. “Mindfulness offers a chance to learn how to hold our emotions in a different way where we can develop a friendliness toward them and learn to transcend them rather than cover them up or convince ourselves everything’s going to be ok.”

To do that, ask yourself questions like “How do I feel?” and “How do I know I feel that way?” You might want to examine how you’re feeling about a stressful meeting or long commute, for example, to see how those events impacted your day.

4. Don’t let noise and clutter deter you. “Meditation is partially about learning to accept and be ok with how the world and environment is around us on a daily basis,” Zlotnik says. Go ahead and meditate in your open-plan office—you don’t need to find a quiet, serene place to go. And if you decide to meditate with others, there’s no need to clear away furniture or make people sit in a circle, Zlotnik says.

5. Find a class, or teach yourself. Many communities offer guided meditation classes for a donation or fee, Orr says, but youth workers can also guide themselves through the process at no cost. Beginners wishing to learn more about mindfulness can find books at their local library or free online resources like this 5-minute meditation demonstration by Zlotnik.

6. There’s no wrong way to do it. Explore what works for you, Zlotnik says, as long as you concentrate and focus on the present moment.

Discover self-care resources for youth workers, including a short video about three youth workers who deal with work-induced stress through arts and meditation.

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