Ask the Expert : What is Mindfulness and how can it help me manage pressure at work?
This article’s expert on Mindfulness was Sue Butterfield
Mindfulness appears to be one of the new buzzwords. As I’ve seen you offer a one day course in it, can you explain to me what mindfulness is and how it could help me manage pressure at work?
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to what is happening to our lives in the present moment which helps us respond to daily challenges and pressures at work in a focused and calm manner by giving us the ability to manage emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events and pressures, both from a personal and work perspective. Becoming more ‘present’ can have a positive influence on our working lives, our relationships and our health. Lots of studies have demonstrated that practising mindfulness can help us at work by:
- enhancing our focus and attention
- helping us respond appropriately to work-place stress
- increasing our self-awareness and our awareness of others
- raising our levels of resilience
- helping us think more clearly
Most of us live a great deal of our lives without paying attention to what is happening right now. We tend to ruminate about what has happened in the past, or spend time worrying about the future. For example, have you ever driven to work, and arrived there and realised you remember nothing about the journey; or eaten your lunch whilst working at your desk, and realised you have finished it but still feel hungry? These are common examples of ‘mindlessness’ or living on ‘automatic pilot’. Learning to become more aware of our feelings, thoughts and sensations as they happen ‘in the moment’, without judgement and self criticism, can have a significant impact on our well-being.
This can be achieved by introducing mindfulness and meditation practices which help us learn how to slow down or stop brain chatter and automatic or habitual reactions to situations, giving us control over our thoughts, feelings and reactions.
Introducing a formal practice of mindfulness meditation, is a systematic method of focusing your attention. You can learn to meditate on your own, following instructions in books or recordings. However, you may benefit from the support of an instructor to introduce and guide you through these techniques. Scientific studies have evidenced that introducing mindful meditation practice for twenty minutes a day over a period of eight weeks can positively improve the brain patterns which result in depression, anxiety, stress and irritability.
A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. This can be achieved by focusing your attention on moment to moment sensations during everyday activities, doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention . Examples include: brushing your teeth, eating, driving, walking or breathing.
Mindfulness can also be used as a ‘quick fix’ to help control stressful situations and respond in an informed and controlled manner. Extremely useful in a pressurised work environment. The following exercise is a simple but effective approach to managing those difficult situations.
The three minute Mindfulness exercise
- Sit in a comfortable, upright position with your feet on the floor. Rest your hands on your thighs or on your desk.
- Focus on your breathing, nothing else. Breath in deeply, exhale fully. Experience the sensation as you continue. Do not worry.
- Now move your attention to your hearing. The sounds of your breath, sounds inside the room, sounds outside the room. If other thoughts pop into your head, acknowledge them and let them go. The trick is to focus, really focus on your hearing and nothing else.
- Next focus your attention on feeling. Start with your head and move down to your feet. Focus on the feeling in your shoulders, your breath, your back against the chair, clothes against your skin, the position of your hands, your feet on the floor. Again, the trick is to focus only on what you can feel, in the moment.
- Finally, allow yourself one minute to enjoy a state of relaxation, in the moment.
The first few times you try this, you will encounter distractions and ‘brain chatter’, this is normal when starting out. When this happens, gently acknowledge this distraction and allow yourself to return to the exercise.
At the end of the exercise, you will find you are relaxed and refreshed. Pressure will be reduced and you will be able to deal with difficult situations with a clear head in an informed way.
Whether you decide to take the formal approach to mindfulness, adopting a structured regular practice of mindfulness based practice and meditation, or adopt a more informal approach using mindfulness techniques, you will find that you will soon be able to more effectively manage pressure at work and in your personal life.