The idea of promoting mindfulness at work has become extremely popular amongst employers and managers, and it’s easy to see why. Although it’s difficult to precisely measure the benefits of mindfulness through scientific studies, evidence has emerged in recent years showing that it can help with stress, anxiety and depression.1 Even NICE, the organisation that guides doctors, now recommends mindfulness-based therapy as a treatment option that works for some people with depression.2
With mental health problems being a major cause of sickness absence in the workplace, mindfulness could be one way to support you employees’ mental wellbeing, and help them feel as good as possible.1
Mindfulness may also help with:
- Performance – mindfulness is essentially about being in the present moment, calming your thoughts and focusing, which sits naturally alongside high-performance.1
- Creativity – being creative requires clear and flexible thinking, which are both encouraged in mindfulness. Several big-name companies have implemented mindfulness programmes to help with creativity and innovation.1
- Leadership – being mindful could help you to be more self-aware, which may help you to make informed decisions, rather than being controlled by intuitions.1
Ideas for practising mindfulness at work
There are always moments at work when you or your employees will have a minute or two to yourself. Here are some suggestions on ideal times to practise mindfulness, that you and your employees might find useful.
While the computer is loading
This could be while your computer is loading, or when you’ve been put on hold on the telephone. You might find you use these times to have a snack or get a coffee. These moments are ideal for practising mindful breathing.
1. Become aware of the sensations in your body.
2. Focus your attention on your breath. Notice your breath as it goes in and out of your body. You can also count your breaths as they go in and out.3
3. Do this for at least 10 breaths. If you lose your concentration and your mind begins to wander, you can gently guide your attention back to the count of your breath.4
This technique can help improve ‘attentional functioning’ (ie concentration) which is useful if you’re struggling to focus at work.4,5
Before a meeting
Dealing with colleagues at work can sometimes be stressful. This can often be the case if there are different opinions or tensions within your team. Take a few mindful moments before entering a meeting or having a discussion with a colleague, to mentally ‘check-in’ with yourself.
1. Focus your attention on your body and taking note of the sensations you feel – you might notice that your shoulders are tense, or that you’re clenching your jaw
2. Focus your attention on your thoughts – is your mind racing or are you dwelling on an earlier comment by a colleague?
3. Make a note of your emotions – you may be feeling stressed or anxious. Try not to judge yourself for how you feel. Being aware of how you feel is the aim of this practice.
Being mindfully aware of your thoughts and feelings can help you to step back and reflect on, rather than react to, potentially difficult situations.6 It’s thought that this may also help to reduce the psychological effect these situations can have on you.6
During moments of stress
Sometimes you may find that you’re unable to prevent stress at work.7 This stress can cause you to feel emotionally exhausted, and lead to burnout.6 You may dread going to work, and struggle to work to the best of your ability while you’re there.6 Stress can also lead to depression and anxiety.7
Taking a mindful moment may help you identify this – you can use either of the practices above. Once you're aware of how you feel, you might realise that stress at work is an ongoing problem for you. If so, it’s important that you speak to your manager or a trusted colleague so that you can get the support you need.
If you’re stressed, you’re more likely to have a negative frame of mind. It’s thought that mindfulness can help to reduce repeated negative thoughts. It’s also thought that being a more mindful person makes you less likely to dwell on the negatives in a situation.9
Why not try getting out at lunch and going for a mindful walk? Mindful walking combines the traditional mindfulness practices of awareness and breathing with the physical benefits of walking.10
On your walk, start with noticing your breath. Then notice the sensations in your feet and legs as you walk. Finally, build in awareness of the natural swing of your arms as you walk.
You don’t need to take very long – a brisk walk round the block should do. If you don’t find the time during lunch, try mindfully walking to the bathroom or when you go to make a cup of tea.
Why not try it out with our walking mindfulness podcast?
1. The Mindfulness Initiative. Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace. Published October 2016. http://themindfulnessinitiative.org.uk/images/reports/MI_Building-the-Case_v1.1_Oct16.pdf
2. Depression in adults: recognition and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Last updated April 2016. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg90/chapter/1-Guidance
3. Levinson D, Stoll E, Kindy S et al. A mind you can count on: validating breath counting as a behavioral measure of mindfulness. Front Psychol. 2014; 5: 1202.doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01202. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4208398/
4. Mitchell J, Zylowska L, Kollins S. Mindful meditation training for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adulthood: current empirical support, treatment overview, and future directions.Cogn Behav Pract. 2015 May; 22(2): 172–191. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpra.2014.10.002. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4403871/
5. Ling Keng S, Smoski M, Robins C. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011 Aug; 31(6): 1041–1056. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3679190/
6. Reb J, Narayanana J, Ho Z.W. Mindfulness at work: antecedents and consequences of employee awareness and absent-mindedness. (2015). Mindfulness. , 6(1) , 111. Research Collection Lee Kong Chian School Of Business. http://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4539&context=lkcsb_research
7. Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel S. Stress and health: psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2005; 1: 607–628. doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/
8. Personal communication, Dr Meera Joshi, Mindfulness Expert
9. Kiken L and Shook N. Does mindfulness attenuate thoughts emphasizing negativity, but not positivity?.J Res Pers. 2014 Dec 1; 53: 22–30. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2014.08.002. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4178287/
10. Prakhinkit S, Suppapitiporn S, Tanaka H, Suksom D. Effects of Buddhism walking meditation on depression, functional fitness and endothelium-dependent vasodilation in depressed elderly. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. May 2014, 20(5): 411-416. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0205