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Mindfulness and Mental Wellbeing

Last month on the blog, in our post about Stress Busting Tips, we touched on the some mindfulness exercises, and how they can provide relief from stress in the short term.

This month, we’re exploring the topic more deeply, looking at how living in the present, and paying more attention to what’s happening around you, and your thoughts and feelings can deliver significant improvements to mental wellbeing.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness can best be described as a way of being more aware of the present moment, so that we can understand and control our our current thoughts, feelings and emotions better.

In the modern world, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, and to forget to embrace the present – losing touch of the way we are feeling, and living in our heads.

Mindfulness means knowing exactly what’s going on, both inside our bodies and minds, and in the world around us, moment by moment.

In practice, this means making an effort to taking notice of the sounds, smells, sights and taste of the present moment, taking time to be aware of what it is to be alive, and allowing ourselves to live in the present.

The benefits of mindfulness

In addition to serving as a great coping strategy to deal with stress, being more mindful can deliver a huge number of benefits to mental health and wellbeing.

By becoming more aware of the present, our emotions, and the world we are experiencing now, we can start to enjoy life more, becoming increasingly aware of our feelings and what is affecting them, so that we can make positive changes.

Practicing mindfulness exercises can help you to:

• Understand your own emotions better
• Boost attention and concentration
• Deal with anxiety and depression
• Reflect on and solve problems
• Reduce addictive behaviours
• Improve pain management
• Stop overthinking and worrying
• Improve mood
• Gain perspective on what really matters in life
• Think more positively and feel better

Mindfulness in practice

Mindfulness is a skill, and to develop that skill and reap the benefits, it needs to be practiced. This can be done formally, through mindfulness exercises, and more informally, as we go through the day.

Integrating mindfulness into the day

The first step to being more mindful is to try to take more notice of the world around you day to day.

Concentrate on being aware of your senses – simple things like taking time to enjoy the tastes and textures of the food whenever you eat, or noticing the pleasant feeling of the wind in your hair as you walk are a good start.

If you’re struggling to remember to be more mindful, then set aside some dedicated time – perhaps a lunch break, where you decide to be more mindful. Try new things, like visiting a new place for lunch, or taking a walk somewhere you don’t usually go, which will force you to break with routine, and notice the world in a different way.

Formal mindfulness practice

In addition to Mindfulness exercises, like the relaxation one outlined in last month’s Stress Busting post, there are a number of other more formal ways practice and develop mindfulness skills.

These include:

• Meditation
• Yoga
• Tai Chi
• Massage
• Pilates

To some degree, Mindfulness is integral to all of these practices, and engaging in them will help you to become more aware of your body, thoughts and feelings, so you can start becoming more mindful in your everyday life.

How Mindworks can help

At Mindworks, our expert team are here to help business of all sizes, working in all industries to optimise their mental health management, through a range of tailored mental health training and consultancy services.

For further information about how we can improve mental health in your organisation, contact 01482 240134 today, or email mindworks@mindhey.co.uk.

Understanding Stress

Work, relationships, money worries – life is full of things that can cause stress, which can affect the way we think, feel and behave. Stress can have a serious impact on both physical and mental health, which is why it’s so important that we’re able to recognise the symptoms of stress, so we can take steps to start managing it.

In this guide, we take a look at stress, some common causes and symptoms, and what you can do to get help if you feel unable to cope.

What is stress?

Put simply, stress is the feeling of being under too much emotional or mental pressure, and usually occurs when people:

• Have a lot on their minds
• Are subject to significant change
• Feel they have too much to do
• Are subjected to unreasonable demands
• Are put in situations they have no or limited control over

When we feel stress, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol – it’s an evolutionary trait designed to help our bodies to react to danger, and also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. In early human history, these hormones gave us additional energy and strength to fight off physical threats.

In the modern world, where stress is mostly emotional, these hormones aren’t quite as useful, and can have negative effects, which form the symptoms of stress. Whilst not always considered a medical problem in itself, extended periods of stress can lead to more serious mental health problems, like depression and anxiety.

What are some common causes of stress?

Everyone is different, and things that are stressful for some may not be so stressful for others. Stress can be caused by single, life-changing events, or extended periods of difficult or challenging circumstances.

Common causes of stress include:

Events

• Death or serious illness of a loved one, friend or family member
• Getting married
• Having a baby
• Moving house
• Changing jobs
• Divorce/Relationship breakdown

Challenging circumstances

• Work difficulties
• Relationship problems and family disputes
• Money worries, unemployment, poverty or bankruptcy
• Problems with housing or neighbours
• Lack of direction or achievement

Symptoms of stress

Stress affects everyone differently, but there are a few common, tell tale physical, mental, behavioural and emotional symptoms, including:

Physical symptoms

• Insomnia
• Restlessness
• Low energy levels
• Headaches
• Upset stomach, diarrhoea, nausea or constipation
• Low immune system (frequent colds, bugs or infections)
• Muscle tension, grinding teeth and clenching the jaw
• Shaking
• Ringing in the ear
• Cold or sweaty hands/feet
• Reduced sex drive/ability
• Rapid heart-rate and chest pains

Mental symptoms

• Mood swings, agitation or frustration
• Difficulty relaxing or unwinding
• Low self esteem
• Wanting to withdraw from social contact
• Reduced enjoyment from hobbies
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Worrying constantly
• Being forgetful or disorganised
• An inability to focus
• A pessimistic outlook on life
• Impaired judgement

Behavioural symptoms

• Reduced commitment to unfavourable tasks
• Avoidance of responsibility and procrastination
• Nervous behaviour, including biting nails, pacing, fidgeting or tapping
• Over eating or drinking more alcohol
• Missing meals/reduced appetite

By being mindful and aware of the symptoms of stress, it’s much easier to know when you need to take steps to manage it.

How to get help

Whilst it is very difficult to avoid stress, how you reacting to stress and the steps you take to combat it has a huge impact on how effectively it is managed.

Short-term management

There are plenty of things you can do to hep reduce the symptoms of stress in the short term, including relaxation, deep breathing and mindfulness exercises – check out our Stress Busting Tips for some ideas.

Looking after yourself

Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked, and there is overwhelming evidence that eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, keeping active and making time for hobbies and friends can provide great stress busting and release.

Getting support

Talking about your problems is an integral part of managing stress – so don’t be afraid to speak up to family, loved ones, friends and colleagues when you feel you can’t cope. If things don’t improve, talk to your GP, who will be able to provide you with support, and suggest any local stress management groups, alternative therapies and therapists who will provide you with the support you need.

How Mindworks can help

At Mindworks, we’re here to help business of all sizes, working in all industries to optimise their mental health management, through a range of tailored mental health training and consultancy services.

For further information, contact 01482 240134, or email mindworks@mindhey.co.uk.

Taking Care of Your Mental Health at Work

Mental health problems at work are really common – as you’re reading this, 1 in 6 of your colleagues are dealing with some form of mental ill health, with depression, anxiety and stress the key culprits.

No one is immune from mental health problems, but there are things you can be doing now to help improve your wellbeing and protect yourself. In this guide, we take a look at just a few easy steps you can take.

Get active

We’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but exercise really is a great way of combating a range of common mental health problems. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you get – whether you walk to work, nip to the gym at lunch, or join a work’s sport team, all exercise releases positive brain chemicals and is a great way to relieve stress.

Get social

Busy work lives can make it difficult to take the time to be sociable, but getting to know your colleagues, interacting with them and building relationships at work is an integral part of protecting yourself from mental ill health. Holding or participating in group activities, sports and social events, and taking part in sponsored group challenges is a great place to start.

Reclaim your lunch

Whenever possible, make sure you take all the breaks you are entitled to, and don’t do any work activities during this time – this will help you to relax and reduce your stress levels. Make the most of this time, doing something you want to do, whether that’s listening to music, reading a book, speaking to your friends, playing a game, or going to the gym.

Get organised

Sometimes, it can feel that your workload is overwhelming, and that you simply don’t have enough time in the day, causing unnecessary pressure and stress. To make things seem more manageable, it’s important to get organised – writing a to do list, prioritising tasks, and ticking them off as you finish them will help.

Separate work from home

Often, people find it difficult to separate their work life from their home life, which can lead to it taking over and impacting on wellbeing. Use your commute to and from work to debrief, distress and process the day, so you can relax when you get home. If you have to work from home, make sure you do it in a designated area, which will make it much easier to switch off once you’ve finished.

Build a better work life balance

If you’re constantly working late, doing extra work at home on evenings or weekends, or missing your breaks – it’s time to start looking at your work life balance.

It’s important that you take the time to unwind, and do the things you like to do, and failure to take enough leisure time to spend on hobbies, and with your friends and family will have a negative impact on your wellbeing and mental health.

Don’t suffer in silence

If your work is piling up, or you feel that you’re struggling to cope, don’t suffer in silence – tell someone! Discuss your workload with a supervisor and manager, and make sure you get the support you feel you need.

Get clued up on mental health

One of the best ways of protecting yourself from mental ill health is to increase your knowledge and understanding about the subject. By taking advantage of any mental health training your workplace offers, you’ll be better equipped to recognise the warning signs, and to effectively manage your own wellbeing in the event that you start to suffer from mental ill health.

How Mindworks can help

At Mindworks, we offer a full range tailored mental health training and consultancy services, designed to help businesses to improve mental health management across their organisations.

With courses covering everything from mental health awareness and workplace stress, to performance management, our expert teams are here to help your organisation to save money, and improve wellbeing and performance.

Find out more by calling 01482 240134, or by emailing mindworks@mindhey.co.uk

Stress Busting at Work – Relaxation Exercises

Sometimes at work, things can all become too much – unrealistic expectations, pressure, deadlines and stress can all combine to have a serious impact on our wellbeing.

Whatever the cause of your stress, the following deep relaxation exercises are designed to help you to calm down, release the tension in your body and effectively manage anxiety and stressful situations, whether at work, or at home.

Like anything, relaxation is a skill that needs to me learned, and practice makes perfect. Whilst you may initially struggle to relax, if you persevere with these exercises, they will become more and more effective over time.

Relaxed breathing

Good relaxation starts with controlling your breathing – when we get stressed, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths that serve to quicken the heart rate, and don’t provide the body and brain with enough oxygen.

First, find a quiet place, where you won’t be disturbed. Take off any tight fitting outer clothes, and your shoes, and sit down in a comfy chair with a head support, placing your arms on the arms of the chair, and uncrossing your legs.

Now, concentrate on breathing deeply in through your nose, and out through your mouth in a slow, controlled and regular manner. Count to five as you breathe in, whilst think about filling your lungs with air so that they expand like balloons – you can put a hand on your stomach and feel it expand as you breathe in.

Now breathe out through your nose, again, counting to five, completely emptying your lungs.

This process will force your heart-rate to slow, and after a few minutes, you should start to feel a lot calmer. Carry on until you feel completely calm.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way of focusing on the present – the idea is that by focusing on the now and blocking out all the outward stresses, we become more aware about our internal thoughts feelings and emotions, so that we can manage them better.

In addition to helping with stress, anxiety and depression, it’s also a great way of boosting concentration, and helping you to focus on the tasks at hand.

One quick mindfulness exercise suitable for work involves focusing on a single object for about 3 minutes. Turn off your computer screen, and pick a common inanimate object from your desk (not your smartphone or tablet), like a pen, coin, or stapler.

Now, using the relaxed breathing technique outlined above, describe the object to yourself in as much detail as you can. You might focus on the colour, texture, it’s use – it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is to focus completely on the object, emptying your mind of all the stresses and strains.

After a couple of minutes, you’ll feel more refreshed, focused, and ready to tackle the next job!

panoramic sea

Visualisation

An integral part of many forms of meditation, visualisation is another great way to reduce your stress levels at work, taking your mind off the problems at hand and enabling your body to calm down.

Start by sitting somewhere quietly, and closing your eyes, begin the deep breathing exercise. Now, imagine you are somewhere peaceful, and far away from your workplace – it could be a beautiful sunny beach, or simply relaxing at home in a warm bath. Try to think of little details, to add depth and colour to the scene, and feel your stress begin to melt away.

Go outside

Removing yourself from a stressful situation and going outside for just 10 minutes can make a huge difference, giving you chance to calm down, put things in perspective, and take a breather.

Other ways to de-stress

The truth is that everyone is different, and different forms of relaxation will work for different people. For some people, it could be something as simple as having a cup of tea, reading a book, or watching the television for an hour, but others need something a little more involved.

If you’re struggling with stress outside of work, there are a few things you can try that, if practiced regularly, may help you to relax and reduce your daily stress levels.

You might want to consider:

• Yoga

• Tai Chi

• Pilates

• Meditation

• Massage

How Mindworks can help

At Mindworks, we’re here to help business of all sizes, working in all industries to optimise their mental health management, through a range of tailored mental health training and consultancy services.

For further information, contact 01482 240134, or email mindworks@mindhey.co.uk

It’s good to care – the benefits of developing a compassionate workforce

Whilst many business owners and managers think that putting pressure on employees to perform is the best way to increase productivity and profitability, in reality, the opposite is often the case.

In this post, we look at how developing a culture of compassion across your organisation can deliver real benefits in terms of both employee wellbeing and business performance.

What is compassion?

Compassion can be defined as “the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering or struggles of others that motivates a desire to help.”

In business, this means encouraging your managers and employees to be more understanding, respectful and helpful when dealing with other people in your organisation.

It also means encouraging your employees to work together, treat each other as equals and individuals, support each other in times of difficulty, and not to be judgemental.

The benefits of a compassionate workforce

Developing and promoting a happy, compassionate and positive workforce can deliver a number of measurable benefits for your business, including:

  • Reducing the risk of mental health problems
  • Building closer bonds between team members
  • Improving the mood and atmosphere within an organisation
  • Increased commitment to work
  • Reduced rates of absenteeism
  • Increased employee wellbeing and productivity
  • Improved customer service delivery
  • Decreased employee disputes
  • Reduced staff turnover

Put simply, cultivating a compassionate workforce will make your business a better place to be, and you’ll get more out of your employees as a result of these changes.

Creating a culture of compassion

The attitudes and actions of employees will always be influenced by the culture of an organisation – and this needs to start at the top. Business owners and managers are the most influential people in any organisation, and they need to lead by example.

Compassion is contagious, and employees will follow the actions of their superiors within an organisation. Extensive research has shown that even witnessing a single compassionate act can increase employee wellbeing, whilst also significantly increasing the likelihood that that those witnessing the act will follow suit.

Cultivating compassion can mean a big shift in attitudes for some business owners and managers. Often, those at the top of an organisation shy away from compassion out of fear of appearing weak, but this simply isn’t the case.

In fact, the most compassionate leaders are often the strongest – cultivating employee loyalty and an increased willingness to work harder and go the extra mile.

Compassion in action

So what does a compassionate workforce look like in practice?

Compassion should permeate the thinking and actions of your employees throughout their working lives, but there are a few examples of how a compassionate organisation might act:

Dealing with poor performance

Rather than disciplining or blaming an employee for poor performance, a compassionate manager might speak to them about it instead.

In a private, non confrontational setting, the manager would then look to find out whether there are any reasons in the affected employee’s work or personal life that might be affecting them, and work out how they can help.

Being more flexible

If an employee was suffering from mental ill health, and struggling to fit their life around the working hours of your business, then a compassionate business might offer the employee flexible work hours. (In fact, this is now a legal requirement!)

This kind of flexibility helps to show employees that you value them and understand the difficulties that they might be going through, cultivating goodwill and loyalty amongst staff members.

How we can help

At Mindworks, our friendly team of experts can help you to improve the culture of your organisation with tailored consultancy and bespoke mental health training courses for business owners, managers and employees.

For further information on how Mindworks can help to improve the performance of your business, get in touch today on 01482 240134, or email mindworks@mindhey.co.uk.