Mindfulness, a real improver of mental health and wellbeing or just a load of hype?
Awareness of mental health and wellbeing couldn’t be more prevalent on the social agenda, what with Prince Harry, and, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge heading up MIND campaigns and other big celebs opening up about their mental health. But what is Mindfulness, and how does it actually help with stress, depression and other mental health issues?
Mindfulness, probably the biggest thing to happen to Mental Health and Wellbeing is becoming more than just a fad, with the NHS championing the benefits of mindfulness practices.
But what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a well-respected and comprehensively researched technique which has been clinically proven to help reduce depression, anxiety and stress. The technique involves simple meditation practices which, over time, can bring about changes in mood and increase a sense of wellbeing.
According to Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, referenced on the NHS website; mindfulness is knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.
“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a bannister as we walk upstairs.
“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.
“It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
But why is Mindfulness useful in the workplace?
In the UK, over 11.7 million days were lost due to work-related stress in 2015/2016, a growing and worrying trend according to the HSE. With mental health issues on the rise, and accounting for 37% of all work related ill health cases. It is no surprise that businesses are turning to Mindfulness to support their employees to reduce work related stress and improve their wellbeing.
Top tech business Google offer employees ‘mindfulness courses’ including; “search inside yourself”,“neural self-hacking” and “managing your energy” while eBay has fully equipped meditation rooms with pillows and flowers. Twitter and Facebook are doing all they can to stay ahead in the mindfulness race too. But it’s not just the likes of the California tech gurus to introduce mindfulness approaches to the workplace, financiers Goldman Sachs, Barclays and JP Morgan are also jumping on board.
Business schools across the globe are introducing mindfulness to classes, in an attempt to develop leaders who are “self-aware and self-compassionate” with the outcome that switching off, plugging out will power up and power forward.
According to The Guardian; Mindfulness expert Mirabai Bush, famous for introducing it to Google, says: “Introducing mindfulness into the workplace does not prevent conflict from arising or difficult issues from coming up. But when difficult issues do arise… they are more likely to be skillfully acknowledged, held, and responded to by the group. Over time with mindfulness, we learn to develop the inner resources that will help us navigate through difficult, trying, and stressful situations with more ease, comfort, and grace.
“Becoming more aware of your own emotions as they arise you more choice in how to deal with them. Mindfulness helps you become more aware of an arising emotion by noticing the sensation in the body. Then you can follow these guidelines: stop what you are doing. Breathe deeply. Notice how you are experiencing the emotion in your body. Reflect on where the emotion is coming from in your mind (personal history, insecurity, etc.). Respond in the most compassionate way.”
So now you understand the principles of Mindfulness, and the reasons why big businesses like Google are using it to support their employees’ wellbeing, here are our top 7 ways to develop a Mindfulness Approach to the Workforce.
7 Ways to Develop a Mindfulness Approach at work;
1) Lead by Example and Take a Breath
Yes, we just said that – take a moment and breathe. Life is busy, phone’s ring, emails ping, mobiles vibrate with notifications and alerts from apps and social media, and it’s none stop. What to do first, read the email? Answer the phone? Check the notifications?
No, be still – practice having a moment or two without any distractions. A time to stop, breathe, think about breathing and let go of everything. Switch Off, Power Off, Power Down to Power Up. Imagine yourself as a sentence within a paragraph, if there were no punctuation, no commas, no full stops – the words and sentences would blur without clarity or structure. Pause after each activity without rushing to the next and consider what you have just achieved.
We know it’s easier said than done with customers on the phone and suppliers on the other line, but take a moment after each activity, – even if it’s just after you’ve taken your coat off and put your lunch in the fridge to think about the present moment and nothing else.
2) Reengage with those around you and your environment.
With Britons on average working over 48 hours per week, according to the TUC, with many managers and business owners clocking up over 60, it’s important to assess who and what is around you.
Take delight in the little things, and enjoy the moment that joy brings. Look out the window for a second and savour the robin perching on the window sill. Say hello to a colleague you’ve not spoken to in a while, enjoy the conversation and the newness that conversation brings. Behaviour breeds behaviour and while engaging with employees, peers, direct reports and even line managers, your working relationships will strengthen as you feel engaged and connected.
3) Simplify and Focus
Learn to walk before you can run. An old saying, and one that can easily be applied to developing a mindfulness approach. Concentrate on one thing first and worry about the next activity once you have achieved the first one.
By simplifying the task list and concentrating on one thing at a time, you are more likely to focus and perform better than juggling three or four things at once.
Multitasking might be the fashionable go to business term, but for a mindfulness approach it is the very opposite, and if Google and eBay are shouting about the benefits to Mindfulness in the workplace, who are we to argue.
4) Don’t worry about what cannot be undone.
Everyone is guilty of worrying and stressing about everything from forgetting to close the blinds to not passing on a telephone message.
By instilling a mantra of concentrating on one thing at a time, mistakes and forgetfulness should start to reduce. However, if mistakes are made, and nothing can be done to rectify them, then do not worry about what has been done, as you can now only effect what you can do. Think about what happened, use it to learn and build upon. Consider the impact, did you forget to pass on a telephone message and the caller returned the call a few hours later without any negative implication to the business relationship? Sometimes stresses about the small things gets out of hand, especially when issues are minor and have no real impact on the overall business.
5) Take a Walk
As work piles up, and pressures mount the first thing employees do is skip lunch, and therefore a break away from the desk. Take a walk during your lunch break – even if it’s for five minutes around the block, or visit a colleague on the other side of the office and up a flight of stairs.
Walking can act as meditation, and by walking away from the desk, concentrating on your breathing, your focus, for example thinking about I need to open the door, I need to watch my feet walking up the stairs, I need to breathe while doing it. A simple walk will certainly do wonders of the body, mind and soul and is a simple technique to introduce a mindfulness approach to the workforce.
It sounds simple, but keeping nourished and hydrated at work. Your mind will be sharper if you’re not thinking about food all the time. Instead of thinking about cramming in the reports over lunch and swallowing a sandwich to get by, actually stop and eat your sandwich. Enjoy the meal you are eating and forget about everything else. After all, mindfulness is about being present in the moment, enjoy your sandwich and switch off from the end of the month reports.
7) Accept Achievements
Whatever size or impact your achievements may be, reflect on them and accept them. By achieving something in the moment, you will allow yourself and reward yourself for what you have done well without rushing on to the next task.
As a manager, lead by example – if you adopt a mindfulness approach to work, take lunch, go for a walk, take a breather after each activity then your workforce will surely follow. If you are drowning in work, and continue to skip lunch for working on reports and sit at your desk all day then work-related stress will soon creep up on you.
Take inspiration from the biggest brands in the world and be more mindful. Easier said than done, but by changing a few small habits and working behaviours (such as skipping lunch), and adopting a mindfulness approach to work, you will be more focussed, less stressed and less likely to suffer work related stress and other mental health illnesses.