Author: Sarah Hartley, Axis Senior Psychologist
What is mindfulness and can it assist in managing workplace stress?
Mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzz word or wellness trend in modern society, so what’s the big deal? Is it all it’s hyped up to be? In this article we take a look at the core components of mindfulness and how it relates to both general and workplace wellbeing.
Mindfulness has become popularised in the western world particularly within the last decade or so, however, similar practices have been occurring since ancient times in Eastern cultures. In a study conducted in 2019 regarding mindfulness in the workplace, Hilton et al., defined mindfulness as an “anon-religious practice that facilitates an attentional stance of detached observation. It is characterized by paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance”. Malarkey et al., (2013) defines mindfulness as a “non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness of physical sensations, perceptions, affective states, thoughts and imagery. It involves sustained awareness of mental phenomena which arise during waking consciousness. As a form of receptive awareness, mindfulness may create an interval of time where one is able to view one’s mental landscape, including one’s behavioural options.”
Psychologists and medical practitioners alike have utilised mindfulness in the treatment of a variety of physical and mental health disorders. In the broader community, it is often used as a tool to improve general wellbeing, increase perspective and reduce the stress of daily life.
That all sounds great, but what is mindfulness and how is it actually practiced?
There are 4 main elements to mindfulness:
- Choose where to place your attention (could be on something internal or external). Things that people may choose to notice are their thoughts, feelings, something in their environment, their breath or physical sensations.
- Keep your attention on the thing and taking in as much as you can.
- Notice when your attention drifts and remain non-judgemental (this is very normal).
- Gently redirect your attention back to where you are trying to focus.
Myth: Mindfulness is just meditation. Fact: Whilst mindfulness meditations can be an aspect of mindfulness, in reality it is simply the practice of selective attention and non-judgemental, curious practice of attentional control. This may be a structured medication type activity but can be as simple as taking time to notice how your feet feel planted on the floor intermittently throughout the day.
Myth: Mindfulness is about taking time out to rest and relax and takes a lot of time. Fact: Whilst many people describe a feeling of relaxation that may be a by-product of mindful practices, the aim of mindfulness in and of itself is not actually relaxation. It is to selectively manage attention with an open, curious and non-judgemental attitude and become more attuned to the present moment.
Myth: Mindfulness is having no thoughts. Fact: Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more attuned to the present moment through curiosity and awareness of our current experience internal, external or both. As humans it is impossible to have no thoughts occurring at all as they are a critical component to our survival system. Our thoughts can move in and out of the foreground of our awareness but the catch is that we can choose where to place our attention. In fact, having thoughts is actually an important part of being mindfully aware so that we can notice when our attention may shift and tune in to our thoughts if our goal is to focus on mindfulness of thoughts.
Myth: The ultimate goal is to be mindful all the time. Fact: As humans our brains cannot remain in a “perfectly mindful” or aware state at all times. The goal of mindfulness is not to become 100% mindful or “enlightened”. The true goal is to build up the skill of directing our attention in a meaningful way to be able to be more attuned to our present experience. Our attention management is like a muscle and can be built up over time.
Myth: Only monks can truly practice mindfulness. Fact: Everyone can practice mindfulness anywhere at any time – the way the practice may look will be different for everyone and can be done individually or at a group level and include anything from self-directed moments of focused attention to structured group activities.
So, what does the research say in terms of benefits?
Hilton et al. (2009) referenced in their study that research suggests that mindfulness is linked to better workplace functioning (e.g., Harker, Pidgeon, Klaassen & King, 2016) and that cultivating resilience and mindfulness may assist in preventing psychological distress burnout and secondary traumatic stress (Glomb, Duffy, Bono, & Yang, 2011). Hilton et al., (2019) noted that “Evidence of potential positive effects is documented for the topic areas chronic illness, pain, substance use, depression, anxiety, perceived stress, somatization, cancer support, and IBS. Mindfulness interventions appear to have general benefits for a range of psychological variables and research shows effects of MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) on a variety of health outcomes”. In other words, mindfulness has shown promising results both for general use and use within workplace settings in the research.
Interested in learning more?
At Axis, our team of Psychologists utilise a variety of strategies and methodologies tailored to support you and your wellbeing including mindfulness-based therapies and practices. Consider booking a session today!
Harker R, Pidgeon AM, Klaassen F, King S . Exploring resilience and mindfulness as preventative factors for psychological distress burnout and secondary traumatic stress among human service professionals. Work. (2016) ;54: (3):631–7.
Hilton, Lara G. et al. ‘Mindfulness Meditation for Workplace Wellness: An Evidence Map’. 1 Jan. 2019: 205 – 218.
Glomb TM, Duffy MK, Bono JE, Yang T. Mindfulness at work. In Research. In Personnel and Human Resources Management. (2011):115–57.
Malarkey, WB, Jarjoura, D, Klatt, M. (2013). Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: A