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An Introduction to Mindfulness

An Introduction to Mindfulness

Transport for London has offered mindfulness combined with other interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to staff and it has led to 71% reduction in days off for stress, anxiety and depression.
(Mindful Nation Report 2015)

The word mindfulness appears to be creeping up almost everywhere these days and increasingly companies are looking to mindfulness as a solution to various issues in the workplace.  But what exactly is mindfulness and how can it help you and your colleagues? Housing Technology Wellbeing will be covering the topic of mindfulness in the workplace, so I thought it would be good to kick this off by providing a little introduction. This is a very large and interesting topic, but let’s get started with some basics.

What is mindfulness?

The short answer is that mindfulness is essentially a technique where you focus your attention on the present moment in a deliberate and non-judgemental manner. This focus on the present moment simply means paying attention to bodily sensations, thoughts which arise and your surroundings.

This might all sound a little abstract, but let’s take an example. Imagine you’re busy writing an email at work. Your thoughts are consumed by how to get your message across and all the other tasks you have to get done. Imagine then that you pause just for a moment and you ask yourself: ‘What am I feeling?’, ‘What am I thinking?’, ‘What can I hear?’.  In asking these basic questions, you are taking a step back to observe what is going on in your body and surroundings. Mindfulness is about learning to make these shifts in your attention towards the present moment on a regular basis and break out from the way we normally rush through the day on autopilot, caught up in our work and thoughts.

This technique has a long history coming from the Buddhist tradition, but today it is a well-regarded approach recommended by the NHS and many other organisations to better manage stress, anxiety, depression and also a number of other areas which could make a real difference to the workplace.

Below are just some of the potential benefits which have been found in a variety of studies:

  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Reduced stress related illness
  • Improved relationships
  • Better management of depression

How does it work?

You’re probably asking yourself how all this works? Why would just shifting your attention make any difference?

Well the simple idea behind mindfulness is that the more you become aware of your present actions, feelings and thoughts, the less reactive and judgemental you become.  To take a trivial example, let’s again imagine that whilst writing emails you take a ‘mindful pause’ and focus on your body. In doing this you notice your shoulders are tight. Perhaps you didn’t realise this before whilst you were busy trying to write a response, but now that you’re aware of it, you actively drop your shoulders and release a bit of tension.

Mindfulness works by training yourself to become increasingly aware and less on autopilot mode in order to notice what is really going on. This could be positive or negative and the benefit of this is not simply the ability to neutrally observe what is going on more clearly, but you are also actually giving yourself the space and awareness to take a more positive course of action e.g. drop your shoulders, improve your posture, appreciate a friend etc.   

Another example of how this works is by looking at the way we can misinterpret anxious thoughts at work as facts. For example, someone with low confidence or anxiety issues may consider that one error they made at work is evidence that they are worse than everybody else and will never succeed. Mindfulness aims to reduce these issues by giving you the ability to see these thoughts for what they are and not attach as much value to them. Learning to do this gives you the space to react differently or simply shift your attention more easily back to what you’re doing rather than just ruminating on the error your made.

One thing to emphasise here is that this isn’t just about yourself, it is also about becoming aware of your relation to others and focussing in on what really matters. This is the opposite of one of the clichés of mindfulness, the idea that it is about disengaging from the world or simply not caring anymore.

I’m interested, where can I learn more?

We’ll be publishing a number of other articles on this topic, for example looking at how mindfulness can improve the workplace, how exactly to practice mindfulness (particularly whilst at work) and what organisations are already using it.

Until then, there are some fantastic resources out there where you can learn more and get started:

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

Mind Charity: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/about-mindfulness/

Mental Health Foundation: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/mindfulness

Author: Sebastian Emerson, Housing Technology

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