“An experiential introduction to mindfulness at work” with IP Inclusive and Jonathan’s Voice
This week has been mental health awareness week with the theme being “anxiety”. To understand more methods to help alleviate anxiety we attended IP Inclusive and Jonathan’s Voice’s webinar on mindfulness led by mindfulness expert Dr Sally Rose. Dr Sally Rose is a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher who leads the Staff Counselling and Psychological Support Service at the University of Leeds. “Her interest and area of expertise are in using mindfulness skills and qualities as the foundation for skilful self-care of minds at work across the mental health continuum – optimising performance and mitigating stress-related risks.”
Dr Sally Rose demonstrated practices and concepts that can help us to manage distractions and build mental stability whilst honing in on our attention and focus. She also discussed how mindfulness can help us to recognise when difficulties appear in our lives and how we can tackle them confidently. This, in turn, increases our ability to tolerate stress and better cope and adapt.
We started with observing our minds when we just stop and figured out what we noticed. When we are not focused on something that is absorbing the mind, the mind goes into a free-form wondering state as an unabsorbed mind will inevitably wonder. When we’re not absorbing anything, our mind can become vulnerable as the mind is set for threat detection. A common default state for our minds is anxiety where our minds lack control and can wander. Despite some minds wondering about being pleasant, most minds will wonder about the unpleasant. In fact, even if your wondering thoughts are pleasant, in 2010 research psychologists discovered that in an ordinary working day 47% of the time they found that regardless of where the mind had wandered to, people were feeling less content than they were in the present moment.
Applied meditation techniques can regulate our attention and open up curiosity to the present moment. We explored the difference between attention and thinking. Our attention is always travelling in whatever we are thinking. Our capacity for awareness gets carried along with whatever is being carried across our minds. When we bring our attention to a halt, we drop that default network. Dr Rose likened our attention to a handheld torch. With the torch, we can either zoom in on specifics where the light narrows or take the torch further back widening our focus. This is the case with our attention. We can narrowly hone in on one small area or we can expand our lens and view everything all at once. Our experience is governed by what we attend to.
One main mindfulness practice that stood out was when we focused on a sensory anchor. A sensory anchor is a body part (typically hands or feet) that you assert all your attention to. You anchor your attention on a chosen area inviting sensations, connecting and bringing yourself into a state of mental balance and control. It’s about paying attention on purpose in the present moment with an attitude of curiosity and interest. The purpose of this practice was to help us come to what’s actually there and bring us out of fear mode by tethering our attention to one thing. The bonus is that it can be done in a few moments anywhere, anytime as an effective grounding technique which can centre your busy mind. Executive functions all work better when the mind is in a state of calm and alertness. Sensations of contact can tell us we are here. When you collect and gather yourselves you are no longer trying to achieve a special state. Rather than being at the mercy of the default network we can plant ourselves in the midst of it all in an active position grounding our attention into the sense of being here.
So maybe give this technique a try. The idea isn’t to get it “right” as high achievers may strive to but to practice a mindful state that can help you create a sense of calm and control over your mind. You can find out more on Jonathan’s Voice here, IP Inclusive here, and Dr. Sally Rose here. To some degree, we cover these issues in our salary survey, the 2023 edition is available for completion. We really appreciate your input.
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