Mindfulness: a weapon for the workplace, and beyondPicture by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash.com

I’ve been practising mindfulness, or meditation, for several years now. It started through an NHS course that I undertook while struggling with mental illness, and from these foundations, my practice has grown over the years, trialling different methods, classes and apps. I’ve ebbed and flowed with my practice, but after a near relapse with my mental health three years ago, I’ve staying on a steady path with my daily meditating. And I’ve done this simply because it works for me. I didn’t relapse back in 2018, and I ultimately owe this to throwing myself fully back into mindfulness. It was honestly my last resort. But it worked. In terms of how meditation can help within the workplace, the benefits are many-fold. So I’ll dive straight into this topic.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of sitting quietly and paying moment-by-moment attention to your breath, as well as any thoughts in your mind, body sensations and the environment in general. It’s the practice of bringing your attention back to the breath each time the mind wanders. Which of course it will. And still does by the way.

Mindfulness also has a focus on compassion and non-judgement, which is what especially drew me to start practising in the first place

You can use different techniques like visualisation, which can be immensely powerful, alongside counting the breath, a body scan, amongst a whole array of other techniques. There are plenty of apps out there and these include Headspace and Insight Timer – both of which offer free versions - and are great in getting started.

What are the benefits?

Mindfulness helps improve physical and mental health and overall wellbeing. Its benefits are well documented and there have been many studies in recent years, to the point where the NHS regularly run free sessions for the public, if needed. By focusing on the present moment, you’re more engaged in what you’re doing and are therefore less likely to ruminate and think about the past and future. With this comes a greater ability to connect with others and have better relationships overall. All of which are crucial happiness indicators.

Physically, mindfulness helps with reducing stress, anxiety, heart disease, blood pressure, improving sleep – this list really does go on

How can this help in the workplace?

So me for, mindfulness has helped tremendously. By having points in the day when I can check in with myself: tuning out to the external environment and turning inwards. I can focus on my breath for a few moments and notice how I’m feeling. A bit like checking your temperature, I suppose. If I’m shallow breathing, then I’ll focus on breathing deeper, into the belly, and will leave feeling calmer, more refreshed and energised as a result. This also helps me pace my day better, and to essentially take a break. Which yes, I do forget to do.

In the past when I worked long office days, I would go and sit in my car to practise mindfulness to be somewhere quiet and alone. It’s worth seeing what quiet spaces your organisation has to offer and even request a suitable space to be mindful in, if there isn’t one already. You could perhaps book out an office or meeting room if that’s an option for you. This is quite a good route, as it also forces you to keep the appointment, since the room is waiting for you. If there really isn’t anywhere quiet to go, then I would simply go for a walk and practise mindfulness while walking. This is a meditative activity and works just as well in itself.

My personal experience

Aside from the formal practice of mindfulness that I’ve just described, I also try to have a mindful approach to life in terms of how I undertake my everyday activities and generally pay attention to my senses

It’s not the easiest thing to achieve, as we do spend a lot of our days on autopilot. But when I can, I try to focus and pay greater attention to whatever it is I’m doing.

When I started a new job for an organisation a couple of years ago, I was quickly exhausted. In time, I noticed that the lights in my office were too bright. I talk about this in more detail in my blog To disclose, or not to disclose?, as I actually went on to make a reasonable adjustment to have the lights changed. But in this case, mindfulness helped quicken the process in enabling me to realise that the lights were in fact the issue. When you’re new to a role, you have so much going on for you; new people, the environment, different processes – it’s a huge change and this can really take its toll. But with mindfulness, I was able to separate out the specifics of what was affecting me, to then understand that the lights were a massive hindrance in my ability to cope each day. This propelled me to go through the reasonable adjustment process quicker – as well as giving me the confidence to do so.

How do I start mindfulness?

You just start. Like with anything, you take the decision and instigate appropriate action. You can download an app or simply begin by setting an alarm in ten minutes time, and using this time to focus on your breath or stare at a flickering candle flame, for example. You’ll probably need reminders in your calendar to begin with as you explore different times and when works well for you. I would keep it constant though. I practise for around 10-15 minutes when I wake up each day, and find that’s the best time of day for me. Otherwise the rest of my day starts, gets busy, and then it simply doesn’t happen! But as we know, once it’s habitual and becomes routine, you won’t be able to imagine your day without it.

I’ve used different forms of mindfulness over the years and would wholly recommend having your own practice and seeing what ticks

Plus a practice that works for you around your lifestyle. Mine is still changing by the way. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it as such, so with that in mind, I wish you well on your journey towards a calmer mind with more space in it.

Mahlia Amatina

October 2021