The word ‘mindfulness’ seems to be everywhere these days
Mindfulness stress-reduction programs are fast becoming a solid plank in corporate wellness strategies.
Mindfulness programs, run by external trainers and delivered in-house to stressed-out employees are in steady demand as employers seek to curtail the impacts of a big range of lifestyle and mental health issues that lead to costly absenteeism and its sneakier sibling, presenteeism.
And unlike some gimmicky offerings to staff, employees notice the benefits; mindfulness programs are the new gym-at-work, if you will.
There is little doubt mindfulness practices – which range from yoga to tai chi and the most popular recently, mindfulness meditation – work.
Researchers for the American Psychological Association, Daphne Davis and Jeffrey Hayes, found many clear benefits from a broad review of prior research into mindfulness. Davis’s and Hayes’ 2012 practice review What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research, reported a multitude of benefits.
Among them, that mindfulness “decreases rumination” (or ‘over-thinking’), improves memory, reduces anxiety and depression symptoms. People who did mindfulness meditations in studies became “less reactive” and more flexible in their thinking. They were found to be better at “self-observation” and could adapt better to “stressful and negative situations” and concentrate better after receiving “upsetting stimuli”.
But the issues that worry us enough to interrupt people work and sleep are so mind-bogglingly varied that general, one-size-fits-all mindfulness programs could easily frustrate us if the results aren’t apparent where we need them. Mindfulness practices tend to inch us towards become more mindful across every area of life. Might it make more sense to apply targeted mindfulness practice to one or two areas of life? Maybe the ones that stress you out the most?
Think about that: don’t we need distinct a mindset to resolve relationship issues, compared to say, problem-solving our career stagnation? Can you compare the kind of focus needed in finding the calm and patience to cope with a major health scare or crisis with to the action needed to reign in our ballooning credit card debts?
One of the biggest issues stressing out employees in the US and in Australia is something not often associated with mindfulness meditation: personal finances.
The American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in American Survey, of 3,068 adults, found 64 per cent considered money “a somewhat or very significant source of stress”. More than one in five people “experienced extreme stress about money” during the month they were polled.
“Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began in 2007 … this year’s survey shows that stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on Americans’ health and well-being,” said APA CEO Norman B. Anderson.
In Australia, the picture is similar. AMP’s 2016 Financial Wellness report found “one in four” workers were financially stressed and the company estimated that cost A$47 billion a year in lost revenue.
“It’s important we find ways to address levels of financial stress in the workplace,” said Vicky Doyle, AMP’s Director Corporate Superannuation.
While the solution Doyle posited was financial goal-setting, given the amount of distress and discomfort money causes us, could there be other answers too? What if mindfulness practice could change not only the way we view our money problems, but lead us to concrete actions that solve some of them?
Tomas Jajesnica, Chief Mindfulness Officer at Financial Mindfulness, says mindfulness practice can help with obvious (but hard-to-control) problems like overspending in two ways. The first is to help you stop re-living the kind of fantasy in which it’s somehow okay to continue living beyond your means.
“You become more aware of the situation not as you want it to be, but as it really is,” Jajesnica says. “The second thing it does is create equanimity, or a balanced mind, so you can deal with the ups and downs of life. Then you are better equipped to deal with whatever situations you face, with calm focus and clarity.”
So mindfulness may not directly improve your financial circumstances, at least not straight away, but it is capable of quickly reducing the pressure you feel about money – which is by definition your sense of financial stress.
Jajesnica, who is also a corporate-based mindfulness trainer and meditation teacher, says practising techniques like meditation can go further too, putting you in a frame of mind to find solutions to stubborn problems with their personal finances.
“Most people from when they wake up to when their head hits the pillow mind are constantly switched on, moving from task to task to task all day long. When the mind is constantly switched on, it’s inevitable stress will occur.
“Mindfulness this is a maintenance tool to help develop clarity of thought to create space in the mind for new ideas and innovations.”