In honour of World Mental Health Day 2017, I have decided to write a blog post about the role of mindfulness in mental health. The rising interest in mindfulness over the last few years has segued into its application to a variety of mental health problems that most of us will face at some point in our lives. I have previously written about the use of mindfulness-based therapies in mental health treatment, the application of mindfulness to eating disorder treatment, and the benefits of mindfulness for everyday problems and conditions. The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is workplace wellbeing. I have touched upon this issue in a previous blog post, where I wrote about the misapplication of mindfulness to the work environment to make workers more productive, compliant, and efficient. Today, however, in line with this year’s World Mental Health Day theme, I would like to write about how mindfulness can (and should) be applied to the workplace in an appropriate and beneficial way for all.
What is World Mental Health Day?
World Mental Health Day is celebrated on the 10th of October every year, and is a day for promoting mental health education and awareness, to reduce mental health stigma by bringing attention to important issues that affect people worldwide. Mental health problems range from stress, anxiety and insomnia, to eating disorders, depression, and bipolar disorder, and a huge range of other disorders of varying severity. You can read more about World Mental Health Day on the World Health Organisation website.
How can mindfulness benefit workplace wellbeing?
Mindfulness courses (especially Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) are now more and more commonly offered for students, teachers, nurses, employees, and managers in office-based and non-office environments. Whether they are offered appropriately and delivered by a qualified mindfulness instructor is beyond the scope of today’s post, but anecdotal as well as scientific evidence suggests that mindfulness may indeed be beneficial for workplace wellbeing in several ways. I outline the three key aspects below.
- Reduced stress. Stress is probably the number one mental health concern that occurs in the workplace, and can affect anyone. Mindfulness and meditation have been associated with decreased stress, and reducing stress is the primary goal of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which is the most commonly taught mindfulness course.
- Enhanced sleep. Tired workers are not likely to be productive, or, what’s even more important, healthy. Being tired at the end of a long working day is not necessarily a cause for concern, but lack of sleep because of stress, anxiety, or any other reason is detrimental to wellbeing. Mindfulness and meditation training may enhance sleep quality and thus overall mental and physical wellbeing.
- Improved communication. Happier and healthier individuals who are more aware of their emotions and how they respond to external (sometimes negative) situations are more likely to create a positive workplace environment through compassion, kindness, and emotion regulation, as well as open communication and harmony between employees.
Additionally, any non-work related benefits that are gained from mindfulness practice (e.g., better mood, self-compassion, self-efficacy, present-moment awareness, acceptance, enhanced attention) are also likely to be transferred to workplace wellbeing.
How can mindfulness be adapted for the workplace?
All of the benefits listed above take time and regular mindfulness and meditation practice to realise. For this reason, qualified mindfulness and meditation instructors are needed to ensure mindfulness is applied in the workplace in an ethical and beneficial way, with mental wellbeing at its centre. Small steps can be taken to achieve a more mindful workplace environment.
- Mindfulness courses. As mentioned previously, many companies are now offering mindfulness-based courses in the workplace, and researchers have found generally beneficial results of such courses in terms of the wellbeing of employees. Mindfulness courses can be tailored to type of job, workplace environment, number of employees, and time available, but should always have mental wellbeing as its target outcome.
- Meditation breaks. Most office-based environments operate on an 8-hour schedule with a lunch break (usually one hour) being the only rest period breaking up the working day. It is only during lunch breaks that employees leave their desks (if at all) to hastily eat their lunch, stretch their legs, or even get some shut-eye. However, it could be of great benefit for employees to have additional short meditation breaks built in throughout the day. Reconnecting with one’s breath for just five minutes a few times a day is not likely to cause a decline in work quantity, but may even cause an increase in work quality and employee wellbeing.
- A shift in perspective. Perhaps this seems like a wishy-washy goal, or even an unattainable dream, but there would be significant benefits for all parties from focusing on employee wellbeing, rather than productivity. In fact, although this should not be a primary focus, when employees are happier and healthier, they are likely to be MORE productive. The benefits outweigh the costs. And the benefit of increased mental wellbeing outweighs almost everything.
Mindfulness may be trending at the moment, but more research is needed to ensure the safety and accuracy of applying mindfulness in the workplace. There is still a long way to go to make mental health care a reality for people all over the world. In the meanwhile, mindfulness can be a great approach for people who do not have access to other treatments. Additionally, mindfulness benefits extend to all areas of one’s life, making it an approach well worth considering.
Supporting mental health
I am currently fundraising for Beat – Eating Disorders Association. You can read my story here or use the links below to donate to my cause. All proceeds go to Beat to fund the amazing work they do for individuals living with eating disorders! Thank you so much for your support! 🙂
My Go Fund Me page: https://www.gofundme.com/KatforBeat
My Do it for Charity page: http://www.doitforcharity.com/KatForBeat
PS. If you have come through this blog to donate, please feel free to leave a message on the fundraising page with the #maybemindful and your name so that I can thank you on my blog!