Technology has changed the rules of the workplace. Nowadays we’re always on, always available. That iPhone in your pocket makes it pretty difficult to truly ‘punch out’ when you leave the office.
Instead we rely heavily on these pocket computers to stay in the loop, checking our phones a staggering 1,500 times every week! If you don’t believe me there’s an app that will tell you how often you check yours…
We’re so firmly connected that it’s becoming hard to mentally detach and relax – something that could be more important for your health than you realise. Instead of taking a step back and remaining in control, we tend to let our busy-ness overrun our lives.
A recent report breaking down clinical trial data suggests that mindfulness, a meditation technique aimed at focusing the mind on the present moment, can help alleviate stress and enhance the quality of your life, as well as being an effective cure for anxiety and depression.
Could practicing mindfulness at work be the key to ‘de-stressing’ your day?
What is mindfulness?
In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness. It’s the process of waking up to the present moment, of becoming aware and paying attention without judgement.
While the practice has roots in the Buddhist tradition, it’s been fully adopted by the secular world, and companies like Headspace have found success in packaging it for consumers.
The technique is based on focusing on your breath to control and centre yourself.
If you’re unconvinced of the value of becoming aware to the present moment, maybe some scientific evidence will do the trick.
1 – Mindfulness meditation actually re-shapes the brain to help us deal with STRESS
A recent Stanford study found that an 8 week mindfulness course reduces the reactivity of the part of the brain responsible for triggering fear. It’s this section (the amygdala) that usually kicks in when we’re feeling swamped.
Meditation helps us conquer this, instead of feeling unhappy and overwhelmed by challenges – a major issue for 80% of UK citizens!
2 – Mindfulness meditation makes you more CREATIVE
A team of Scientists from the University of Groningen and North Dakota State University found that mindfulness improved problem solving and divergent thinking – a style of thinking that allows more ideas to be generated.
3 – Mindfulness meditation increases FOCUS
Neuroscientists have discovered that after just 11 hours of meditation, we undergo structural changes in the section of the brain that monitor focus and self control. Researchers also discovered that meditation could be the trick to performing better under time pressure.
4 – Mindfulness meditation reduces ANXIETY
We’re all born worriers – Scientists believe that our brains have even developed a ‘negativity bias’ that draws us more to threats than opportunities. Combined research from 163 different studies suggests that meditation has a positive effect on improving anxiety and stress levels, going some way to solving the problem.
5 – Mindfulness meditation improves RELATIONSHIPS
Meditation has been proven to solve communication problems in romantic relationships, but it can also go a long way to improving your relationships with anyone you might meet. It helps us become more comfortable with ourselves, making it easier for us to accept others (and easier for them to get on with us).
How to practice mindfulness in the workplace
It’s clear that mindfulness meditation has some pretty extensive benefits, but how do we fit it in at work?
With our tough work schedule, it often feels like we’re walking a tightrope – one slip and we’re behind.
Taking a moment to re-focus can be the trick to staying on top. Here a few tips to help you you practice mindfulness to stay productive at work.
1 – Try a three-minute breathing space
Dr Danny Penman, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World recommends periodically taking what he calls a ‘three-minute breathing space’.
Taking 3 minutes, either at your desk or a quiet space in your office, to stop what you’re doing, inhale and exhale deeply and focus your attention can make an enormous difference Penman recommends trying it two or three times a day and believes it will transform your day.
Particularly if you’re feeling stressed, taking a little time to clarify your thoughts will make you far more productive.
2 – Tune into distractions
We all face distractions at work. Whether its your colleague loudly tapping out his emails, or the latest fire alarm test, our attention is constantly dragged in different directions.
Paradoxically, paying attention to these distractions, as opposed to trying to block them out, might be a great way rob them of their disruptive power.
Instead of tensing up in frustration, gently become aware of the sounds and see if you can observe the way they effect your body. You’ll be surprised how effective this is!
3 – Find time to unplug
Being plugged into the grid 24/7 might be convenient for your boss who wants you to review a presentation at 11pm, but it might not be great for your health.
We’re saturated with information, which makes it hard for us to prioritize and work efficiently.
It might initially seem tricky at work but taking short breaks from technology can make a huge difference to productivity (and stress). You might get in trouble for turning your computer off, so start small. Try leaving your smartphone at your desk when getting lunch.
The Avoidance Risk
Despite it’s far-reaching benefits, mindfulness programs in the workplace do carry some risks, principal among these is the avoidance risk.
This refers to the tendency of some people to avoid critical thinking tasks, disconnecting from challenges and retreating into a meditative mindset. Some problems actually require more thinking not less – focused breathing is not always the answer.
Mindfulness is great for priming the mind for rational thinking and enhancing efficiency, but it is not a valid replacement for focused, task orientated thinking.
For anyone feeling stressed in today’s fast-paced workplace environment might find value in meditation.
There will always be those that are suspicious of anything related to spirituality, but mindfulness meditation is finally losing the reputation it received in certain corporate circles as “woo-woo mystical stuff”. A number of large companies have introduced it, for example Google, who have formally incorporated it into their Search Inside Yourself training.
Nowadays people are thinking of it as training your brain, improving your capability to deal with your busy life. Try it out and see if it makes a difference for you!