Mindfulness Amidst the Pandemic
After a large company with more than 10,000 employees participated in a mindfulness class that the office offered, Duke University conducted a post-event study and found that among those who took part in the class, the following were observed:
28% reduction in self-reported stress levels
20% improvement in sleep quality
19% reduction in pain
an average of 62 minutes per week of added productivity
Companies like Google, Apple, Nike, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, and many others have started offering mindfulness programs to boost productivity and to promote better mental health and happiness among their employees.
What exactly is mindfulness and what benefits does it offer?
Mindfulness is deep awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and our environment. Ideally, mindfulness is maintained in every moment because the goal is to turn it into a way of life. When we practice mindfulness, we are able to focus on the present moment whenever we want or need to, no matter what is happening around us.
Meditation is just one of many ways to practice mindfulness. When we meditate, we immerse ourselves in the moment for a certain amount of time. Regular practice will help us develop the ability to be fully present (or mindful) for most of our waking hours.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can lead to many physical, psychological and social benefits. People who are more mindful are happier, more patient, more accepting, positive, and compassionate. They also have lower stress levels, decreased aggression, frustration, and sadness. Furthermore, mindfulness has been proven to help with pain, depression and even disease.
However, we must not think that mindfulness itself gets rid of stress or problems. Rather, it helps us handle difficult situations by making us more aware of the unpleasant emotions and thoughts that arise as a result of these situations. When we are more aware or mindful, we think before we act and we are able to make sane decisions, avoiding complications and unpleasant confrontations.
When paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, it is also important that we do not judge them, that we simply accept them as they are. It is important to emphasize that being judgmental is different from making judgments or judging/discerning. The latter is all about using our common sense to be able to make wise decisions or to help loved ones avoid making poor choices.
Being judgmental, on the other hand, has to do with making judgments in a way that may hurt others rather than help them. When we are overly critical of other people's character and when we diminish them in our or in other people's eyes, then this is negative judgment. We must never regard someone as "small" because of their attributes, their choices, or the situations that they have no control over.
Reaching a state of mindfulness
Aside from meditation, there are other ways to practice mindfulness. Among these is the practice of mindful breathing. Focus on each breath--the way it goes in and out of your body. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, said: "Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath to take hold of your mind again." It is, therefore, helpful to practice conscious breathing during stressful situations.
You can also practice mindfulness by paying attention to what is around you: sounds, temperature, images, even your thoughts. Observe them without deciding whether they are good or bad. Use your senses to experience how to be fully present. This awareness practice may be employed whether you are still or in motion. It's great to practice awareness while walking, commuting, talking to others, working, doing chores, etc. Being absolutely present where you are and noticing the world around you is a mindfulness practice.
When you take your tea, for example, you can do it mindfully by being conscious of your every movement and then sitting down and taking your time to enjoy the flavor and the silence. Mindfulness may be applied to every action, every situation, every moment. It is, really, a very simple practice.
Is it possible to be mindful in a crisis situation?
The crisis situation that the world is in right now has sown fear in the hearts of people. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many are afraid of getting sick, of their loved ones catching the virus, of death, of losing their jobs, business and income, and so on. Apart from the fear and anxiety, many of us also experience grief, exhaustion, and stress. It is, indeed, a very difficult time for almost everyone.
Mindfulness can help us at a time like this by shifting our focus on the present moment to forget all the negativities even for a brief amount of time. If we turn inward and be silent, we can find the calm inside us. Mindfulness has the power to bring us to a place that is so different from our external surroundings. What better time to practice mindfulness than now, when everything seems to be in chaos?
Mindfulness in the workplace
In the workplace, mindfulness training and practice have become more important than ever. Employees or workers are facing new challenges related to working from home, including diminished productivity, the disappearance of boundaries, the added stress from being with their family all the time and having to supervise the children's schoolwork on top of office work, and so on. These struggles could lead to increased anxiety and stress, anger, irritability, and even depression. Expectedly, all of these will eventually affect performance and productivity.
Because of the new ways of working, organizations carry more responsibility of keeping their employees healthy mentally and physically. One of the ways by which they can do this is continuing to offer mindfulness programs or classes even during the pandemic (or, especially during the pandemic).
Experts have found that being more mindful leads to an increase in compassion and empathy--the ingredients for personal and collective resilience. Mindfulness also helps one feel more connected with others, thereby reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, which have become prevalent because of quarantine/lockdown protocols, social distancing, and other limitations to human connection.
Corporations have started to offer these mindfulness classes online, via Zoom or some other video conferencing platform. Employees or workers have given good feedback on this, so it appears that online mindfulness classes are working as well as the live lessons.
It is, however, very important to learn from a qualified teacher, one who has dedicated years of personal practice and training or study to the discipline. The International Mindfulness Teachers Association (IMTA) is the certifying body that upholds standards for mindfulness teachers and teacher training programs worldwide.
Organizations like Mindfulness Asia (www.mindfulnessasia.com) offer workshops and classes to develop resilience and the mental wellbeing of employees. Its founder is an IMTA Certified Mindfulness Teacher and holder of significant credentials as proof of credibility and competence.
As we have seen above, the success and resilience of an organization directly correlate with the health and wellbeing of its members. Having a mindfulness practice is apparently necessary, now more than ever.