Mindfulness can help alleviate your work stress – if your manager practises it

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It’s clear that workplace stress and burnout have been exacerbated by the pandemic. As workers and employers look for ways to alleviate the mental health toll of the past couple of years, some experts are suggesting that mindfulness and meditation could provide some welcome relief.

And it’s not just something for employees to try – workplace leaders can better support the mental health of their teams by becoming more mindful themselves.

Mindfulness is an ancient practice and a type of meditation that uses techniques to help individuals focus and become aware of what they’re feeling in the moment without explanation or judgment.

The practice has several benefits, says Kerri Twigg, a Winnipeg-based career content coach and best-selling author of The Career Stories Method. It can, among other things, alleviate stress, improve focus, enhance sensory clarity by re-directing awareness to the body and help people experience equanimity. And, because you’re not obsessing about the future or are stuck in the past, one can be fully present in the moment, says Ms. Twigg.

When people reach out to Ms. Twigg for help, she says it’s because they’re either disinterested in their work, frustrated at the trajectory of their career or are not being valued by their organizations. Some are unhappy despite landing their dream jobs. Through a combination of science-informed mindfulness training, stories and career coaching, Ms. Twigg alleviates her clients’ dissatisfaction and directs them to ideal roles.

“There are six areas of career contentment: relief [from stress], concentration, fulfillment [how to appreciate what you have], self-understanding, mastery in your expression and work [how you show up to work] and connection [communicating with others],” Ms. Twigg says. “After my clients identify the areas, I teach them mindfulness techniques to support them.”

She also introduces her clients to mindful practices to help them deal with self-sabotaging thoughts and emotions.

Rooted in science

Last year, Canadian digital marketing firm Caddle published the results of a survey that showed 73 per cent of respondents believed regular meditation practice will improve work-life balance, 56 per cent used meditation for relief from stress and 58 per cent said they would participate in virtual meditation sessions should their employers offer it.

It’s a practice rooted in science: Neuroimaging studies reveal mindfulness and meditation have the capacity to rewire how the brain responds to stress and help improve working memory and executive functioning.

In 2012, Drs. Diana Koszycki and Andre Vellino founded the Academy for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies at the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) with the purpose of introducing mindfulness and meditation in an educational setting and bringing everyone, either teaching or researching mindfulness, together.

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“Mindfulness and meditation have been found to have beneficial effects in helping people manage difficult emotions more effectively,” said Dr. Koszycki, a professor of counselling psychology at uOttawa and research chair in mental health at the Institut du Savoir Montfort.

“Mindfulness is the ability to not get caught up in difficult emotions and being able to respond with a sense of equanimity. I think it’s important for organizations to have workplace programs so that people can learn how to better manage stress.”

Mindfulness may not work for everyone, Dr. Koszycki notes. Individuals should embrace whatever stress-reducing strategy works for them and be consistent. Walking, listening to music, yoga and focusing on breath are all excellent options, she says.

Becoming mindful leaders

Mindful Employer Canada is a Hamilton, Ont., not-for-profit with teams across Canada, offering flexible programs and training for corporate and organization leaders. The goal of the organization is to equip participants with tools to deal with workplace mental health as well as other issues such as performance, conflict and building strong teams.

The idea is that mindful leaders at work will look inwards when dealing with situations and people in the workplace, making decisions by taking in information non-judgmentally and being empathetic towards their employees.

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