Work On Your Wellness: Mindfulness
The average tech professional is no stranger to high work stress and poor work-life balance. As the pressure builds up, stress and anxiety accumulate. Excessive stress can have an adverse effect on mental and physical well-being, affecting one’s ability to focus on tasks at hand and engage positively with coworkers.
Increasingly, employers are becoming aware that there are business costs associated with poor mental and physical health of employees. Consequently, many corporations in the United States and elsewhere have begun investing in wellness programs for employees. These programs often include mindfulness training, the intention being to enable their workforce to deal with stress, improve awareness and develop resilience.
In recent years, several research teams have conducted studies on mindfulness. Most of these are academic and have been undertaken in labs or clinics. As such, they are not indicative of the actual impact of mindfulness meditation practices on diverse and large groups of workers in real-world work environments.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is often described as being present in the moment. To be fully aware, it is necessary to be able to sustain awareness of all your senses from moment to moment by observing thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise, without judgement.
Some practitioners begin by focusing on breathing — observing the sensation of inhaling and exhaling. Initially, most practitioners find it difficult to focus even for two or three minutes. With regular practice, attention span usually increases.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation can be beneficial if practiced regularly in the right way. It is believed to improve both mental and physical well-being.
In recent years, some medical practitioners have started making mindfulness meditation a part of treatment of patients with specific mental and physical ailments. They believe that regular practice can help to alleviate physical and mental symptoms in some cases.
Over the years, a number of doctors and psychotherapists have begun using mindfulness meditation along with other remedies to treat anger issues, eating disorders, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), attention deficit problems, depression, panic attacks, and substance abuse. Potential physical benefits include stress reduction, lower blood pressure, some relief from chronic pain, improved digestion, and better sleep quality.
Practicing mindfulness daily can help improve an individual’s capacity to take control of his life. Being able to recognize emotions and thoughts as transient mental phenomena that arise and pass away helps you to not get caught up in a spiral of negative emotions, such as anxiety, dread, regret, bitterness and despondency. People who worry less and feel fit are better able to focus on the present and face everyday situations with confidence.
Regular mindfulness practice can gradually bring calm and clarity. Whether at home or at work, being mindful helps one engage fully in whatever one is working on. Working with awareness helps you to understand the problem or situation and respond positively.
Mindfulness can help sharpen cognitive ability and improve innovative skills. You might find it helpful to meditate before a project, a major presentation, an important meeting or any challenging event.
Improve Your Interactions with Others
Both mindfulness meditation and the practice of loving-kindness have the potential to boost inter-personal relations and make people more helpful. Loving-kindness, or the practice of compassionately opening oneself up to others, can foster a sense of goodwill toward others as well as make one assume responsibility.
Researchers at Harvard have found that the practice of loving-kindness is more effective than breath-based meditation in enabling practitioners to understand others’ experiences, develop empathy and connect meaningfully with co-workers.
Practitioners of loving-kindness meditation learn to generate goodwill toward others in the same room or any work, home, or other environment. Regular practice helps one rise above negative feelings, such as anger, jealousy, fear, bitterness and resentment.
Instead of focusing on self alone, one begins to see things from the other’s perspective and respond with understanding and compassion. This approach can help managers, supervisors, executives and others in leadership roles to view things from a holistic perspective, motivate team members, and take responsibility for getting the job done.
There is more than one mindfulness training method. All are forms of contemplation and are intended to enable the practitioner to be fully present in the moment by paying attention to thoughts, emotions and sensations as they occur, without judging. This helps to enhance alertness and concentration.
Once you learn how to process emotions, you will be able to focus on activities in the present. Technique for improving mindfulness techniques include:
Observing natural breathing — Practitioners focus on their breath as they inhale and exhale. The mind will wander. The idea is to refocus on breathing as soon as one realises the mind has wandered.
Observing emotions and thoughts — The continuous flow of mental phenomena arise from our past and present experiences. Viewing this stream of thoughts, emotions, and imaginary states without attachment can help weaken feelings of craving, aversion, and ignorance and calm the mind, enabling one to focus on the present.
Observing sensations — Sensations are linked to mental processes. Practitioners observe sensations wherever they arise on the body or move their attention from head to toe, observing sensations as they go along, without judging.
Silently repeating a word or verse — Focusing on a word or verse and redirecting one’s attention when the mind gets carried away helps to focus the mind.
You can learn mindfulness or loving-kindness meditation by attending a class, or on your own by listening to a meditation tape. If you decide to join a class, it is advisable to research several options and identify one that aligns with your principles and goals.
Mindfulness in Daily Life
There is no "one size fits all" method of mindfulness. Each one of us has a unique consciousness and set of circumstances. Our responses to mindfulness practice also differ from one to another. Keep an open mind and try different options in order to find one that suits your mind, role, and lifestyle. This can help make meditation work for you.
While beginning each day with 30 minutes or more of meditation can be effective, meditating before a challenging meeting or an important presentation, or sales call, or when you are overly stressed in any work situation can be very helpful for some. A good approach is to meditate in the morning and incorporate brief moments of mindfulness when you need it most in the workplace.
If there are people or work situations that stress you out, you might want to meditate for a few minutes before interacting with the people concerned or a challenging event.
You can practice mindfulness at any time, while working, eating, walking, interacting with people, cooking, or any activity. This will help make mindfulness a part of everyday life. The more you meditate, the more you will be able to focus and expand awareness.
Normally, it takes at least 30 minutes to calm your mind. You might find it a bit trying initially, but it is worthwhile to make the effort to meditate for a minimum of half an hour and gradually increase the duration. It might just make you a calmer and happier person.