Mindfulness is a state of increased awareness and attention to the present moment without judgment. Workplace mindfulness is the extent that you can be mindful in your work setting. High levels of stress in the workplace impacts the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. Relentless workplace stress is draining, exhausting and debilitating. When repeated regularly, mindfulness can promote healthier ways of identifying and accepting thoughts, feelings and emotions. How wonderful would it be to have a few simple techniques to be more mindful at work, relieve a little of that feeling of overwhelm and help you face the day ahead? Let's explore the benefits of practising mindfulness in the workplace and five ways to be more mindful at work.
What are the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace?
Studies on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic show that the levels of stress, anxiety and depression in front-line healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients are high (1). You might think this is inevitable during a pandemic. While it may be true that a pandemic is relatively unique - the impact on the profession should not be accepted or dismissed. A large umbrella study (2) found 12 systematic reviews focused on mindfulness practices for healthcare workers. Results showed a potentially positive impact of mindfulness on anxiety, depression and stress. An additional nine reviews evaluating interventions on general workplace populations, including healthcare workers, also identified positive trends on reducing distress and burnout.
When stress is looked at in more detail, breathing exercises, meditation, compassion and active listening can significantly reduce levels of stress in healthcare workers, and increase self-compassion (3). There are also promising results from mindfulness practices on clinician empathy, serenity and sense of self, and a reduction in emotional exhaustion, burnout and depersonalisation. All the results combined show that mindfulness techniques can potentially reduce self-reported stress levels. A decrease in daytime cortisol production may be the underlying physiological reason for this (4).
Five ways to be more mindful at work?
1. Start the day in the present moment
A high level of anxiety about the day ahead can create a peak in cortisol levels from the moment you wake up. Starting the day with routines or rituals that help you consciously enter the day will calm your body and mind. Activate your senses in these practices. It could be as simple as making your favourite cup of tea, listening to a motivating track, using a nourishing hand cream or feeling a few seconds of cold water at the end of your shower. The goal of mindfulness is to pay close attention to your physical sensations and thoughts. Find something that makes you feel alive in the present moment and mindful of the day starting.
2. Frame the working day
Defining a start and finish to the workday can help you feel balanced, even if what happens in between is less in your control. Framing the workday with mindfulness can be fitted into a commute, walk to work or even as you sit down at your desk at home. A breathing exercise like the 3 part breath can slow the pace of thoughts, giving you time and space and connect you to the present moment. Done regularly, this will create a simple ritual of focus and boundary to the non-working part of your life.
Introduction to the 3-part breath
3. Plan a mini-break strategy
Having an exit plan when the day gets too much can create a sense of security. Identify a place where you feel comfortable taking five minutes out and where you are unlikely to be disturbed. This could be a stock cupboard, in the changing room or even better a bench or spot of grass outside. If you are working at home - step away from the desk, open the window and get some fresh air with a new perspective. When you need to relieve the pressure during the workday, take yourself there and stop. Focus on your breath for five minutes and observe. Adding a body scan can also help to be mindful of your physical body and rest the mind.
If you have five minutes, try a simple meditation. Meditation is excellent for calming the mind and breath. Try a guided meditation with a pair of headphones to take yourself away from the world for a short time. Download a track to your smartphone or find a piece of music that you find calming. While you meditate, allow your thoughts to come and be aware of them without judging them.
Short 5-minute stress relieving meditation with music
5. Eating mindfully
Being mindful while you eat can be an easy way to add mindfulness to your day. As you start your meal think about where the food comes from and who prepared it for you. Develop a sense of gratitude for the meal. Take time to taste and savour each bite. Eat slowly and purposefully, recognising that you are nourishing your body. If possible, try to think ahead and fill your lunch with food that will energise and replenish you. If you are working from home, set the alarm for your lunchtime and eat away from your computer. If you treat yourself with comfort food during the workday, simply acknowledge it and be present with your treat.
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The prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression within front-line healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients: a systematic review and meta-regression. Salari N Human Resource Health 2020 17;18 (1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33334335/
Mindfulness meditation for workplace wellness: An evidence map Hilton LG. Work 63(2019) 2015-218 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31156202/
How effective are mindfulness-based interventions for reducing stress among healthcare professionals? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Burton A. Stress and Health 33:3-13 2017 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26916333/
Do workplace-based mindfulness meditation programs improve physioloigcal indices of stress? A systematic review and meta-analysis. HEckenberg R. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 114 (2018) 62-71 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30314581/