Mindfulness: Mental Balance for Battling a World of Stress
The meditation and relaxation technique called mindfulness enhances people´s ability to maintain focus. This practice has become popular with companies and individuals thanks to the health benefits it provides.
You write a report while attending a meeting. Next, you take the time to respond to an email from your boss (urgent, of course). We live in the era of multitasking, a time when doing several things at once seems to make us more efficient and productive. But this tendency has side effects: it causes stress and reduces our attention span. Mindfulness asks people to take a break from our busy schedules. This technique, a combination of meditation and relaxation exercises, aims to boost wellness and mental balance. Companies, universities and schools all around the world have been running mindfulness programs for years to teach this discipline to students and faculty.
The Argentinian Health and Mindfulness Society explains that this method includes "consciously paying attention to the present experience with interest, curiosity and acceptance." In other words, mindfulness offers mental training to help our brains to stop.
flitting between one thought and the next, to control our own emotions and concentrate on what is happening now.
Although this practice is rooted in Buddism and is over 2,500 years old, it was not until just over 40 years ago that the Western world began to catch on. The current professor emeritus of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the first mindfulness course at the University of Massachusetts (US) at the end of the 1970s. Little by little, the method transcended the walls of the university and captured the interest of companies and individuals. But, why has it become so popular?
Reduced anxiety levels
The breakneck pace we find ourselves subjected to day after day has led work-related stress to be considered as one of the primary causes of work-related health problems. In fact, according to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, stress affects 28% of all professionals in the European Union and the World Health Organization has called it a worldwide epidemic.
Techniques like mindfulness offer a solution to help people avoid feeling overwhelmed. Skeptics may look at it as just another commercial ploy designed, presumably, to boost happiness levels. However, these exercises are not aimed at promoting happiness, but rather fostering an acceptance of reality.
Improved concentration capabilities
The positive effects of mindfulness have been the subject of scientific research. One study, performed by the New Jersey School of Medicine (US) and referenced in Scientific American, demonstrated that after an eight week mindfulness course, the amygdala in the brain associated with feelings of fear actually shrinks. As this happens, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in concentration and decision making, becomes thicker.
Mindfulness does not happen by magic. This methodology helps people to gain self-awareness, and the more emotionally mature one is, the more capable they will be of analyzing habits which are harmful to them and make changes accordingly. The benefits of mindfulness, therefore, can depend more a person´s emotional intelligence than on the technique itself, according to some experts.
Fosters creativity and the ability to influence
More and more companies are turning to this technique to create a healthy environment. Mindfulness fosters skills like creativity and the ability to influence others. Companies in Silicon Valley (US) have pioneered the current trend of corporate mindfulness program which continues to gain steam. At Google, for example, the mindfulness workshop is among those most popular amongst employees. Apple, Aetna, General Mills, Intel and Target were also some of the first companies to implement these programs.
Boosts leadership capabilities
Business schools have also found in mindfulness an ideal formula for training future executives. Institutions like the Claremont Graduate University of Los Angeles (US) explain that this methodology is crucial to helping professionals to reduce their stress levels, which in turn fosters productivity and confidence during decision making. Although this discipline may seem to be limited to executives, it has also been implemented as an academic subject in primary and secondary schools. In Spain, for example, approximately 200 public schools already practiced mindfulness in 2015.
Learn to practice mindfulness
So, how can all of this be put into practice? A wide variety of courses is available, but it is key to not let oneself be guided by gurus, and to find the right program and schedule for you.
- Programs and mobile apps. The most widely practiced programs are called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBTC). There are also myriad mobile apps which can help initiate new adepts. Some of the most highly rated apps for iOS and Android are Headspace and Mindfulness App. But if you decide to use them, take care not to get distracted by the rest of the apps and incoming messages on your phone.
But, how much time does mindfulness require? Once skilled in the technique, it is possible to practice mindfulness even while executing other tasks. To do this, it is important to learn first to practice throughout the day. Here is some advice from the Argentinian Society of Health and Mindfulness:
- On your way to work, do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by traffic, and don´t obsess about the meeting you will have as soon as you reach the office. Pay attention to what is happening around you, be present.
- When you get to work, observe the atmosphere, read the room and use this to predict how the day will go. Do not let the situation overwhelm you.
- At your desk, don´t forget to maintain good posture. Pay attention to your breathing, control it and avoid unnecessary tensions.
- Once in a while, you may decide to eat lunch somewhere other than your normal haunt, to spend some time alone reflecting, and to eliminate distractions.
- Take a short break every hour. Use this time to get some fresh air and shake off any tension.
- On the way home, clear work problems from your mind. Start to think about your personal life and make what is called a conscious transition. The following day, you will have more energy for tackling outstanding issues.
- Live every moment. Concentrate on what is happening in the present and do not let your mind wander to future or past situations.
By Alba Casilda