Your workplace is probably very different to what it was only a few short weeks ago. Perhaps you are now working from home or are on furlough leave? Or maybe you are one of the wonderful band of workers including, of course, our fantastic doctors and nurses, but also not forgetting shop assistants, delivery drivers, food producers, health workers, researchers, postal workers and numerous other personnel who are still working hard to deliver essential services? Or perhaps you are one of the thousands of people who are volunteering to support the NHS and ensure the elderly and vulnerable are safeguarded?
Whatever your current ‘workplace’ situation currently is, the likelihood is that your levels of stress are unusually high whether that’s from fear of catching COVID-19, financial concerns or the sheer pressure of your workload. Or, more likely, a combination thereof!
Mindfulness in the workplace, wherever and whatever that workplace may be, is more important than ever.
Mindfulness meditation has become very popular of late and not surprisingly, with its plethora of benefits, many companies such as Google, Apple, Nike, Transport for London (Tfl), the Cabinet Office and the Home Office have recruited mindfulness teachers to improve their staff’s wellbeing. It has been reassuring to see this increased focus on employee wellbeing which, in turn, means less absenteeism and presenteeism, and greater motivation and productivity.
But with most of our lives turned upside down, and whatever our current ‘workplace’ looks like, most of us are feeling quite overwhelmed and would really benefit from embracing a calming strategy. This could be a daily mindfulness practice.
This could be a daily mindfulness practice.
So, what is mindfulness and why might we want to practise it?
Mindfulness is the remembering of entering into the present moment, by consciously paying attention to what our mind and body are doing at any one time.
With even a small amount of reflection, you will notice that most of us are living our life in our heads. We are either in the past or in the future but rarely in the present moment, yet life occurs in the present moment! The present reveals its secret through its meaning ‘gift’. It is truly a gift to be in the present. If we aren’t present, then life pass by without us being aware of it.
How do you practice mindfulness?
Have you noticed that when you are on holiday, you seem to get more out of your 24-hour day? The reason is that you are normally very present when you are away from your usual environment. Your usual environment seems so known to you that you fail to be as attentive, as when something new is presented to you.
On holiday, you seem to notice everything around you. You notice the temperature, the setting, you enjoy your food and drinks more, the swimming in the sea or the pool, or the snow or wherever you happen to be. In effect, you spend less time thinking and so you begin to feel relaxed’. When you come out of the mind, you enter the now.
So, to practice mindfulness you take the time to notice what is happening inside of you at any given moment. You become aware of your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, your beliefs, ideas etc. and simply observe them, without judging what you are aware of, in each moment. You also become present with everyday events, such as drinking your morning cup of tea or coffee. You place your awareness on the holding of the cup, the temperature of the drink, the taste of the drink and taking the time to really enjoy it.
There is always something that we can be paying attention to, in each moment, regardless of where we are. Mindfulness is the action of being aware of whatever is arising in that moment i.e. the pleasant, neutral and unpleasant things and accepting the moment as it is. This quality of presence gives you a different relationship with the ‘now’.
Being mindful can be done in any location, including your workplace. In fact, if you are currently working in a stressful situation, it is probably essential that you learn to take a few minutes to embrace a calming mindfulness break.
When a particularly difficult, stressful and/or unpleasant situation occurs, you can actively interrupt the thoughts by taking a few deep breaths. You may have to do this a few times, depending on how much you are affected by that moment. By doing this, you will end the negative mind wandering. It is important to be mindful of what you say and how you are reacting, whilst at the same time acknowledging how you are feeling inside to yourself.
The more the ‘negative story’ is allowed to grow in your mind and the greater your resistance to this moment, the more you will be affected by it. It will become increasingly harder not believe it, so it is vital to end the ‘story’ as soon as possible. Do this as soon as you realise that this is what is going on inside you, interrupt the thoughts. It is often the thoughts about the situation that causes most of the suffering. Mindfulness teaches us to embrace the moment as it is, even if we deem the moment unpleasant, whilst knowing that better times will come.
As such, mindfulness does not attempt to negate the awfulness of the current pandemic. But we do need to acknowledge that better times will come and we will move forward and again be able to enjoy time with our family and friends. And, although many people will have suffered sad losses, hopefully, we will find the world has become a much kinder place.
And even while we are in the midst of this crisis, we need to maintain calmness, courage and faith in order to help us through this. Practicing mindfulness can help us achieve this. By being in the present moment we allow joy and laughter to arise. Joy and laughter are good for the immune system and they help us come out of the thinking mind. Abiding in the now is essential, in order to go beyond personal suffering.
The science of mindfulness meditation
As has been mentioned the benefits of mindfulness are many and you can find some of them in this article. Science has demonstrated that the increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex improves the mood of the meditator. It is thought that meditators are happier people than non-meditators for this very reason. It has been confirmed that non-meditators with depression have more activity in the right prefrontal cortex.
Mindfulness meditation also shrinks the amygdala, which is responsible for stress and aggression and in this way reduces your stress levels. Mindfulness helps you to think in a calmer manner, manage your emotions, improves interpersonal relationships, through increased empathy and mindfully minding your mind, improved listening and communication.
Mindfulness increases one’s memory and thickens grey matter in the brain. Mindfulness also increases clarity, concentration, productivity, creativity and improves sleep and much more, which is so important for efficiency in work.
In short, mindfulness meditation changes the structure and function of the brain with a daily, 20 minutes practise, over a period of 8 weeks, which is why mindfulness meditation courses are most commonly structured as 8-week courses.
Mindfulness mediation services and courses are also available via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp, so the current social distancing regime does not have to stop you reaching out to a teacher/therapist if you would like help embracing mindfulness practices.
Whilst mindfulness seems to have become very commercialised these days, no amount of knowing about the topic will give you the benefits. One really has to put it into practice to reap the above rewards. It is here where we must enter the beginner’s mind, so as to be open to our experience just as it happens. If we can truly be a beginner and enter the present moment, we will find that our ordinary life will seem like a seamless stream of fresh moments. Life then takes on a new dimension.
Perhaps now you can get a glimpse of the huge value of learning mindfulness meditation. As a long-standing practitioner of meditation and mindfulness myself, my own life is evidence of the long-lasting and positive life changes, which have sprung forth from the practice of mindfulness meditation.