More people are reporting heightened levels of stress in the post-pandemic era and our return to a “new normal.” As an organizational psychologist and Director of Assessment at Thrive Leadership stated to VOA, “People are going to have anxiety around picking the commute back up, getting into their routine, getting accustomed to the new protocol in their offices, working with people who have a different view of the virus, and maybe take different precautions or fewer precautions.”
While it will be centered around different stressors than in the height of COVID, we can still expect to see increased levels of anxiety and stress taking a toll on the workforce. This will, inevitably, impact our overall health and wellness with the consistent stimuli of unknowns, risks, and changes.
Studies have shown us that as we increase external stimulation and stressors, our anxiety increases with it. While people will respond differently to anxiety, the National Institute of Mental Health lists some common symptoms as difficulty focusing, irritability, and difficulty with sleeping. This increased stress leads us to have less focus on things that we care about, like our family, our friends, our work, and our hobbies.
Thus it is vital, for the sake of your employees and your business’ success, to include holistic support of mental health and emotional stability. One way to do this is to incorporate mindfulness into your corporate wellness programming, your company culture, and your own business practices.
Recently, we sat down with Megan Delp, a marriage and family therapist specializing in trauma, anxiety, and depression plus a valued BurnAlong instructor, to discuss the importance of mindfulness and how we (and our organizations) can implement this practice into our personal and professional lives. As an expert in the field, she shared some helpful takeaways that can help you and your teams manage stress, in the midst of the unknowns, and find more moments of focus, refreshment, and connection. In this article, reflecting on Delp’s insights, we’ll take a look at what our brains do when practicing mindfulness, some tips to try it, and ways to tie this into your personal and professional habits to improve the wellness of your organization. Let’s dive in.
Your Brain (and Organization) on Mindfulness
When we permit ourselves to choose one thing at a time, we decrease our stress levels and gain control of our attention, which in turn helps us to feel more peaceful, focused, and in control of our lives.
The more aware we are of what our brain is focusing on, the more aware we are of unhelpful thoughts or difficult emotions; the less likely we are to make a bad day out of a bad five minutes. Mindfulness can help us capture these thoughts and emotions, resolve them, and move forward. This, in turn, can improve work relationships with less irritability, and increased focus. Bottom line: more harmony within teams and greater cross-departmental collaboration.
Focusing on what you’re focusing on isn’t easy. Delp noted that the ability to hold a thought in our brain is not something we are innately born with. It is a practiced behavior. The same can be said for allowing a thought to come into our mind and then leave without causing a stir. It’s a practiced skill of mindfulness, built over time.
This not only requires carved out time to practice but also intentionality to encourage yourself, and your teams to practice mindfulness as one of their wellness habits. From a team standpoint, having wellness programming that offers specialty programming, such as meditation, stress management, and mindfulness, is a great way to offer that support and build in intentional moments to practice within your company culture.
Think about it this way: Were you great at your favorite sport, a musical instrument, or a core skillset you needed for your job when you first started? Probably not. It took a lot of practice, questioning, feelings of inadequacy, and perhaps a lack of confidence. But now, after you practiced for days, weeks, months, or years, you are able to engage like it is second nature. With enough practice and use, you are likely able to then train others too. Our brain's ability to do this is called neuroplasticity, and it's that concept that allows our brain to be trained in mindfulness.
How to Practice Better Mindfulness
- Observe. You can observe your thoughts, your breath, your feelings, and the world around you. We practiced observation in the earlier grounding exercise. What do you notice about your immediate environment? Can you detect the details? Can you discover something new? On your next walk outside, look up at the sky and try noticing the clouds. When was the last time you paused to look up and appreciate those fluffy, weird white things? Simply giving yourself a moment to observe your environment has enormous mental benefits.
- Describe. In addition to observing our surroundings, we can also practice mindfulness by learning to describe our internal and external environments. Describing thoughts and emotions is the first step to managing them. Learning how your body reacts to emotion, and describing that sensation, helps bring your mind into the present and manage stress more constructively. Naming and describing difficult situations and the resulting emotions helps head off negativity before it becomes a rooted problem.
- Participate. Reading this article is an act of mindfulness. You're trying to give it your full attention. It's probably hard, and that’s okay. Finding more intentional ways to participate in your everyday life is a great way to practice mindfulness. When you are working on a big project, try muting notifications, closing chat, hiding your phone, and focusing completely on the task at hand. When you're cooking, just cook. Turn off music or television in the background. Ask your family to wait elsewhere. Smell the food, taste the food, and experience the sounds and sights of cooking. When you’re cleaning the dishes, notice the smell of the soap, the sensation of the plates and sponge. You don't have to set aside extra time when you’re starting out with mindful practices. Simply adding intention to tasks you already do is the most natural way to get started.
Interested in some additional mindfulness techniques or creating a team challenge to take mindfulness minutes throughout the week? Check out our mindfulness classes on the BurnAlong platform.
Applying Mindfulness to Work
Finding ways to be more mindful, more connected, and more involved in the moments that matter will have long-lasting benefits on your overall health and wellness. We recommend trying to implement some of these tips throughout your workday or even crafting a corporate wellness challenge with an incentive to encourage your teams to participate.
BurnAlong wants to support you, and your organization, as you focus on holistic wellness and the importance of mental health, stress management, and, yes, even mindfulness. To learn more about our specialty content and the benefits to your organization, or to get ideas for how to create a corporate wellness challenge, schedule a demo today or reach out to our customer service so we can brainstorm solutions with you.