ShareThis Page

Stressed at work? Meditate

| Saturday, July 14, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

All sorts of gizmos and gadgets can help you be more productive at work, and theories abound on how you should structure your days to get more done.

But a study finds that becoming more focused, productive and less stressed at work may involve nothing more than learning to meditate.

David Levy, a computer scientist and professor with the Information School at the University of Washington, found that those who had meditation training were able to stay on task longer and were less distracted. Levy and his co-authors discovered that meditation also improved test subjects' memory while easing their stress.

Levy, who has used meditation for many years in his own life, decided to do the experiment involving the workplace after reading Darlene Cohen's book, “The One Who Is Not Busy: Connecting to Work in a Deeply Satisfying Way.”

“In the book she was talking about how she's adapted some Zen training to the workplace,” he says. “For 20 years I've been looking about how to add balance to the workplace, and that gave me the idea for the experiment.”

Levy had one group of human resource managers undergo eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training. A second group got eight weeks of body-relaxation training. The third group received no initial training but then was given the same training as the first group after eight weeks.

Subjects were given a stressful test on their multitasking abilities before and after each eight-week period. They had to use email, calendars, instant-messaging, phones and word-processing tools to perform common office duties.

Researchers looked at their speed, accuracy and number of times they switched tasks. The participants also were asked to record their stress levels and memory performance while doing the jobs.

Researchers found that the meditation group not only had lower stress levels during the multitasking tests but also were able to concentrate longer without being distracted.

But for the other two groups -- those who received relaxation breathing training and those who had no initial training -- stress did not go down. However, when the third group received meditation training after eight weeks, their stress also decreased.

“Meditation is a lot like doing reps at a gym. It strengthens your attention muscle,” Levy says.

Levy says that he knows what it feels like to be overwhelmed at work, calling himself “stunned” when he left a Palo Alto, Calif., think tank to take up academic duties.

“I kept thinking, ‘This is crazy,' “ he says. “I do wonder why we make ourselves work this way. There's no time to even think. We've gotten to a place where we're just speeding up, and we don't do things well. We've got to slow down.”

While Levy says further study is needed to determine whether the meditation benefit can continue over the long term, in his own life he says meditation has helped calm his stress. He thinks it can be worth a try for workers who feel overwhelmed, distracted and stressed.

Write to Anita Bruzzese in care of Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107. For a reply, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.