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Dealing with work stress? Why mindfulness in the office can help

ABC Health logoABC Health 8/07/2018

a woman sitting at a table © Provided by ABC Health Emails. Meetings. Calls. Colleagues. The daily grind can get many of us down, but how can we make our everyday workplace a better place for our mental health? 

According to Safe Work Australia, more than 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions each year, equating to around 6 per cent of workers' compensation claims.

In addition to this, workers with severe depression take 20 times more sick days a month.

Smiling Mind CEO Addie Wootten said more and more people are feeling burnt out, overwhelmed and taking time off work.

The not-for-profit organisation aims to make mindfulness meditation available for everyone.

"We know that many people turn up to work not feeling their best and that impacts a range of things including satisfaction in their work life and the ability to do their job," Dr Wootten said.

"There's a real financial burden placed on work places in Australia and around the world.

"There's an estimated $11 billion cost per year related to mental health problems in the work place and that's related to time off."

Mindfulness: not just for stress, but for productivity

While many of us use meditation and mindfulness to beat stress, the practice can also help focus and get more out of your day.

"Mindfulness is a tool to boost performance and tap into what motivates you as well as help you pay attention and focus," Dr Wootten said.

"More and more people in the workplace are looking for that sense of flow and focus to get more done.

"Think about what time of day you can fit in a small meditation in your day or mindfulness practice."

Using meetings as a place for mindfulness

Dr Wootten said small changes in the workplace could benefit everyone and it's not about sitting in the lotus position and meditating.

"You can choose to have your meeting in a mindful way, what I mean by that is you can make sure that you're fully present when you're having those meetings," she said.

"Pay attention to what the person is saying rather than thinking about the endless to-do list you have or predicting what the rest of the day will look like."

She recommends starting a meeting by encouraging everyone to stop and take a breath before rushing into business.

"We often bring a lot to a meeting — we're racing to work, getting kids to school, checking emails or whatever it is. But stopping and starting with a meditation provides a circuit breaker," Dr Wootten said.

"It means you all get to participate in that meeting in a more present and focused way. Rest, reflect and continue with the meeting."

'Your biggest enemy is the one between your ears …'

Father of three and medical practitioner Andrew Rochford thinks current statistics underestimate how much time people take off work due to stress.

"I would argue that the one-in-five people are the people who are comfortable enough to be honest about the fact they've taken time off work due to stress and mental health," he said.

"I would argue that you could double or three times the number of people who have taken time off due to stress."

He said our mind could work against us in the workplace.

"I believe your biggest enemy is the one between your ears, you live most of your life in your own head," Dr Rochford said.

"We need to get better at dealing with the modern world, all the stats about anxiety, depression, youth mental health issues, diagnosable mental health issues; those stats are going up for a reason and they will continue to increase in my opinion.

"Mindfulness is a safety net that we are all going to need at some stage in our life.

"We need to create resilience within ourselves and mindfulness helps with that resilience."

Thinking of mindfulness as more than just meditation

Dr Rochford said changing the way we think about the term mindfulness could also benefit us as the practice can be as easy as listening to music or going for a run before work.

"Do what you can to disconnect from the world and enjoy the moment, don't think about the 50 emails you have to answer," he said.

"When you can put it in your day and make it part of what you do, it becomes part of your routine and that applies to everything in health.

"When you do it in the long-term it will have a much better benefit on your health — it becomes a healthy habit."

Putting it into practice

The ABC have teamed up with Smiling Mind and former Sydney Swans captain Brett Kirk to develop a series of guided meditations to help deal with stress in different areas of your life.

Here's a few to help deal with workplace stress:

  • If you're finding you're feeling stressed during the work day start thinking about how your body reacts to stress and where your mind goes when you feel stressed. This meditation will help you learn how to regulate those feelings.
  • If you take work home with you that impacts on your family or outside of work life, finding a way to use mindfulness as an end to the day can be helpful. Try this meditation to help wind down.
  • Building a skill, decision making and learning how to tune in to how you're feeling and look at the options objectively rather than emotionally. Use this meditation to learn how to make decisions with evidence not emotion.

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