How can employers best use mindfulness?
Mindfulness is becoming more common as a tool used by businesses to help their employees better cope with stress or anxiety and become more productive.
But despite its fairly common use in clinical practice, there remains some confusion about what mindfulness is and how it can be applied.
Here, we answer four key questions to help you decide whether mindfulness is appropriate for use within your organisation.
What is mindfulness?
In basic terms, mindfulness means awareness of the present moment. By practising mindfulness, you learn to pay greater attention to the present moment, instead of getting caught up in your thoughts.
Its origins are rooted in Buddhist meditation but it is increasingly being taught as a secular practice, designed to help us become more aware of everyday experiences, such as sights, sounds, smells and tastes.
This not only helps us to appreciate and enjoy the world around us more, but also become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and learn not to become entangled in them.
How does mindfulness help mental wellbeing?
By becoming more aware of the present moment and less wrapped up in our thoughts, we become more able to step back from our thoughts and notice patterns, including the effect they have on our emotions.
As a result, we can train ourselves to realise when unhelpful thoughts are ‘taking over’ and deal with difficult situations in a more positive, productive manner. This kind of awareness also helps us to notice signs of stress and anxiety earlier.
Mindfulness is also recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past. It increases activity in a number of brain regions, including those parts involved in learning and memory processes and emotion regulation.
How can mindfulness be implemented in the workplace?
Given mindfulness is a personal process, it is appropriate to provide employees with the relevant training, tools and information before allowing them to determine their own practice.
Mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body. Consequently, it might help to offer employees a quiet space or meditation room, or provide guidance on practice, such as breathing exercises, they can do at their desk.
Practice should not be enforced but instead encouraged on a ‘little-and-often’ basis so that newcomers to the technique can become accustomed to it. It is often helpful to work practice into everyday activities where possible.
Mindfulness might be introduced as part of leadership training, personal development or specific stress management initiatives in order to encourage staff to take a structured approach to its practice.
Is there any proof for the benefits of mindfulness?
A wide range of research supports the use of mindfulness as a tool to reduce the impact of stress, anxiety and depression and will be useful when encouraging your organisation to invest in its use.
A research study published by the University of Oxford in November 2013 into the effects of an online mindfulness course on 273 subjects showed an average, after 58 per cent reduction in anxiety levels, 57 per cent reduction in depression and 40 per cent reduction in stress after one month.
A 2010 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found mindfulness also improves working memory. The non-meditating group in the study had decreased working memory capacity over time, whereas a group that underwent an eight-week mindfulness course saw working memory capacity increase with meditation practice.
Where can I find further information on mindfulness?
Detailed information about mindfulness, including tips on how to be mindful and different types of practice can be found on the NHS Choices website.
The Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University also has a large amount of information, including details about courses and retreats.