Workplace mindfulness - fad or future?

'Mindfulness' has become something of a buzz-word in the media over the past few years – it is no longer viewed as 'a bit alternative' or something that only benefits people sitting on cushions on the floor on a retreat.  Instead, mindfulness is attracting significant media attention, and the potential benefits it can provide in a workplace setting – improved focus, concentration, resilience and engagement, to name a few – mean it is also attracting the attention of HR managers and CEOs across UK businesses.  

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World Mental Health Day - Why it Matters

This Saturday (10 October) is World Mental Health Day. It is a day used by organisations across the globe to increase focus on mental health education, awareness and advocacy. The main theme of WMHD this year is 'Dignity in mental health' - raising awareness of what can be done to ensure that people with mental health conditions can live with dignity. And with the latest research showing that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, the need to raise awareness and ensure that happens is clear.

Even using the words 'mental health' can cause issues because of the stigma attached to it. But we all have a brain (even if sometimes we feel it is a bit sleepy), and we all therefore have mental health that needs looking after - it shouldn't be a taboo subject.

It was only in my late 20s/early 30s that I really realised that mental health should take as much priority for us as physical health, and I made a bit of a pact with myself to make sure I look out for both - for myself and for other people.

I have always been a bit of a worrier and someone who internalises rather than vocalises their stress levels. I also know that I can ruminate on a problem until it seems much bigger than it actually is. For that reason, a few years ago I decided to find a strategy to help me regulate my own stress levels, regardless of what was going on around me - in work and in my personal life.

Mindfulness is listed by the NHS as one of the five steps individuals can take to positively improve their mental wellbeing. It sounded like something that would be useful to me. I talked in my previous blog about my reservations I had about starting a mindfulness course, but ultimately, I wanted to be proactive about tackling stress before it became a major issue.

I took the 8 week course that trained and equipped you with the skills to start integrating mindfulness into your daily life. It is an evidence-based course, popularised in the West by Professor of Medicine Emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn. I was drawn to the fact that it has been tested in a variety of settings, and actually shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness has had a big impact on my life. At work it has made me better able to recognise and control my stress levels, and has increased my concentration levels and focus. In my life overall, I am not preoccupied or distracted by worries nearly so much, and I feel like my ability to bounce back when things don't go to plan has got better. I'm not saying mindfulness will always work for me, or that it is for everyone. People have their own approaches and strategies to manage their mental health and wellbeing and what works for one person might not be guaranteed to work for another. But the key is finding our own strategy and respecting other people's - in that way we are treating ourselves and each other with the care and dignity we all deserve.


Why I minded trying mindfulness ...

It is no secret that I have, at times in my life, been a ruminator, a worrier, a procrastinator, and 'catastrophiser'. Yes,  take any problem, add a lack of sleep, a pinch of paranoia, negative stress, think about it a bit more and before you know it, something that seemed perfectly manageable at first has pretty much turned into Armageddon in your brain, and the worst thing is ... no one knows about the pending disaster apart from you!

Worrying could, on occasion, and completely unintentionally, become my most absorbing pastime - taking up time that could much more usefully have been absorbed by watching David Attenborough documentaries ...

I knew at the time, and I still know, that worrying is not very healthy or good for my wellbeing.  Also, despite taking up a lot of time, worrying in itself has never actually solved a problem for me.  So I started to look around for a way of reducing how much time worry took up in my life, given its value and return rate.    

My sister suggested that I look into something called 'mindfulness'.   I was completely ignorant about what this was and so immediately turned to Google for the answers ...

Having read a description of the 8-week mindfulness stress-reduction course, it sounded like it could be very helpful to me. But, despite the description of the course hitting the nail on the head in terms of what I was looking for, I had several reservations.  

It seemed quite expensive - I am a bargain hunter (no secret to friends and family), but I figured I spend enough money on my physical health, so could handle spending money on my brain.  

My next worry (yes, yet more worry) was that I would be judged by colleagues as a bit of a hippy and be ostracised from all corporate canteens for evermore. Funnily enough, this didn't happen - quite the opposite in fact.  I have come across other lawyers who have either done the course, or who are interested in finding out more about it.  

Next, I had serious concerns that I wouldn't have time to fit in home practice and Netflix all in one evening.  I worried that I might be no good at mindfulness and be bottom of the mindfulness class.  But my biggest worry by far was that the course would do nothing for me and I'd be left with the worry of never-ending worrydom. 

So after ruminating, procrastinating, and worrying a little more, I am pleased to say that I booked the course. As silly as it might sound, that was the biggest hurdle for me so far with mindfulness - persuading myself (yes, with that internal dialogue that we all love) that I wasn't going to be wasting my time/money, be judged (and judge myself) as being a bit odd, or set myself up to fail at something outside my comfort zone.     

The result for me has been that it has been better than any gym I have ever subscribed to, or in fact any course I have ever done.  And having found it so beneficial myself these past few years, I trained to run the 8-week course so that I can pass on the benefits to others. 

I know that it doesn't 'fix' things for me, but practising mindfulness has made me much more aware of who I am, how I cope with pressure, and what I need to do to regulate my stress levels.  And as for the worry ... it doesn't rear its ugly head in mine nearly as much as it used to.  So that can only be a good thing.  I now have much more time just to enjoy David Attenborough in all his glory.