Going back to work after a break is always an odd experience, met with mixed emotions. Staff training is just the same, as you’re presented with more ways to fill your already over-stretched time.
The training session on Monday, however, was different. It was about the staff, and their well-being.
We had a workshop on Mindfulness. I’d heard a lot about it and knew it was meant to be excellent for relieving stress, but couldn’t find any instruction. After the workshop, my mind was made up. This isn’t airy-fairy nonsense, all ohms and crossed legs and flowing scarves. This is practical and useful for those of us under stress, which, I’m sure, means most people in the world of work in one way or another!
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), defines Mindfulness as:
Mindfulness involves paying attention
In the present moment
With curiosity and kindness
To things as they really are.
The first three lines are what is known as “attention training” – anyone can be trained to pay attention. What matters is the final bit – curiosity and kindness to things as they really are. It’s about being kind to yourself.
Mark Williams (Oxford University) simplifies this as two modes of being: Thinking, and Sensing.
How can Mindfulness Help?
As I now understand it, Mindfulness can help release internal stress. External stresses we cannot do a lot about. We are always going to be in situations which can provide us with stress. What we can improve, is our reaction to stress and how we deal with it.
On a basic level, stress triggers the fight/flight reaction. The amygdala in the brain releases adrenalin and cortisol; blood moves to the limbs (blood flow to stomach etc. is restricted, hence the butterflies in the stomach sensation); blood pressure is raised (that causes the hot feeling).
This was a useful reaction when we were being hunted by animals further up the food chain, but fighting and running away are not generally deemed to be appropriate reactions to stressful situations in the workplace. Our stress does not get released. Mindfulness can help to release the stress, to let it go.
Why is it important to relase stress?
If you are constantly under stress and don’t have an out, you could end up with stress-related physical issues:
- tension headaches
- raised blood-pressure
- heart conditions
- sleep issues
- chronic anxiety
- eczema and other stress-related skin conditions
If you’re stressed and your mind is constantly full of all the issues you’re facing, you lose the ability to enjoy things and to enjoy what’s around you.
I know exactly how it feels, to go for a walk in the park but not be able to appreciate what’s around me. To find myself only half-listening to loved-ones as they talk to me because something they’ve mentioned has triggered a reminder of some pressing issue at work, to not be able to sit and enjoy my crafting without feeling guilty because of all the things I should be doing (for more on being kind to yourself and making time for you, see my post: “The Average Child Laughs More than 400 Times a Day. The Average Adult? 17”). Practising Mindfulness could give you some of that space back.
Mindfulness: Informal Practice
One of the key lessons I took from the workshop is to recognise what causes me to feel stressed and how my body reacts to stress. After a few moments, I crossed out my list of stresses and wrote: Everything.
The second lesson, is to be aware of opportunities in my day to “be present” i.e. to focus solely on what I’m doing, when I can calm my mind and body. I was surprised by just how many there are:
- washing up
- taking a walk
- stroking the cats
Being present involves focusing only on what you’re doing at that time and the senses you experience during it. The speaker had us practise by eating a raisin. We took it in our hand, feeling the texture. We smelt it, put it to our ear, finally popping it into our mouths and holding it on our tongues for a while, allowing ourselves to experience the flavour and texture. Finally we ate it properly.
While all of us readily admitted it was an odd thing to do, once we’d finished our raisins and opened our eyes, we were amazed by the experience. A raisin is something you’d grab as a quick “on the go” snack. You’d have a handful at once, shove them in, chew and swallow. Eating like this made us really aware of just how flavourful and textured a raisin is.
We weren’t able to clear our minds of chatter – the speaker assured us that that wasn’t essential. What we should be is aware of the “chatter” and try to let it go. The eating of the raisin brought up memories for all of us and he encouraged us to say “Ok, interesting” (silently) and let it go, focusing again on the raisin.
It’s not all about this:
I was so relieved when he said this! I couldn’t bear the thought of having to sit Buddha-like on a cushion, ohming. I’d never be able to take that seriously.
What is important is to sit upright – meditation is purposeful. That way you won’t fall asleep. I found it also helped with breathing.
- sit upright, away from the back of the chair if you can
- relax your shoulders
- relax your neck – if this means your head tilts down slightly, fine. We were all amazed at the tension we could feel being released as we allowed our heads to tilt forwards slightly.
What followed was silent awareness. We sat, feet flat, hands resting on our legs, backs straight, eyes closed and just paid attention to our several bodyparts and how they felt. It was very odd. I’d never really been aware of how my legs felt as they were pressed against the hard surface of a chair.
Once again, it’s not about clearing your mind completely. It’s about being aware of your body. Stress is hard to calm with the mind, it’s about working with the body.
Advantages of Mindfulness:
- weight management
- improved focus and performance
- improved relationships
- avoiding the “autopilot” mode
I’m going to take advantage of opportunities to be present, to be Mindful. I’d highly recommend attending a workshop if possible.
In the meantime, I attach a link about Mindful Eating from BBC Good Food. Aside from easing stress, being Mindful about eating could potentially aid in weight-management!
This book comes highly recommended and I shall be checking it out: