There are many benefits for developing a workplace mindfulness program, but what exactly is it? In the most basic sense, mindfulness is being consciously aware of your thoughts and emotions. For one to practice good mindfulness it involves the ‘self-regulation’ of attention so that it is focused on adopting a neutral attitude toward one’s experiences in the present moment.
Below are 7 great benefits of integrating a workplace mindfulness program.
1. Being mindful of your thoughts and emotions promotes well-being at work
Mindfulness is a state that is characterised by introspection, openness, reflection and acceptance of oneself.
Recently in the field of psychology, there has been strong evidence demonstrating that mindfulness is significantly correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction, and overall well-being.
Mindfulness itself, however, is not a new concept; it has existed in Buddhism for over two thousand of years. Modern day research has made several interesting findings suggesting this ‘enhanced self-awareness’ diminishes stress and anxiety and, in turn, reduces the risk of developing cancer, disease, and psychopathology. A workplace mindfulness program is effective for general physical and mental health.
2. Being mindful can improve your working memory
Working memory is the memory system that temporarily stores information in our minds for further recall and future processing. Many studies have been undertaken that suggest a strong interrelationship between attention and working memory.
van Vugt & Jha (2011) undertook research that involved taking a group of participants to an intensive month-long mindfulness retreat. These participants were compared with a control group who received no mindfulness training (MT). All participants from both groups first undertook a memory recognition task before any MT had been providing. The second round of a memory recognition task was then undertaken by all participants after the month’s training.
Results were positive – while accuracy levels were comparable across both groups, reaction times were much faster for the group that had received mindfulness training. These results suggested that MT leads to attentional improvements, particularly in relation to quality of information and decisional processes, which are directly linked to working memory.
3. Mindfulness acts as a buffer against the depressive symptoms associated with discrimination
A self-report study conducted at the University of North Carolina measured the level of discrimination experienced by participants and also the presence and/or severity of their depressive symptoms. Participants also completed a questionnaire that measured their level of mindfulness as a trait, which is characterized by a conscious awareness of the present.
The results showed that the more discrimination participants experienced the more depressive symptoms they had. It was also found that the more mindful people were, the less depressed they were.
Finally, and most importantly, the findings suggested that mindfulness might be a protective factor that mitigates the effects of discrimination on the development of depressive symptoms. That is, although discrimination was associated with depressive symptoms, the association became much weaker as mindfulness increased. So, it appears that a workplace mindfulness program may be one way of preventing the onset of depression!
4. Mindfulness can help staff make better use of their strengths
“Mindfulness can help an individual express their character strengths in a balanced way that is sensitive to the context and circumstance they are in.”(Niemiec, 2012)
A lot of research has shown that mindfulness influences mental health and personality (Baer, Smith & Allen, 2004). Not surprisingly, mindfulness is related to character strengths as well.
You can think of mindfulness as a mental muscle. Every time we lift weight, we strengthen the muscle we are working on. In the same way, every time we pay attention to the present moment without judgment, connectivity of the attention, self-regulation and compassion circuitry grows in our brain.
5. Mindfulness practice raises the happiness set-point of employees
Our brain is divided into left and right hemispheres. It has been shown that our brain has high activity in the right prefrontal cortex (front part of the brain) when we are in a depressed, anxious mood.
Our brain has high activity in left prefrontal cortex when we are happy and energetic. This ratio of left-to-right activity shows our happiness set-point throughout daily activities. So, what happens to this ratio when we practice mindfulness meditation?
The research of Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn shows that only an 8-week of 1-hour daily mindfulness practice leads to significant increase in left-sided activation in the brain and this increase is maintained even after 4 months of the training program (Davidson, Kabat-zinn et al., 2003). In brief, this finding demonstrates that short-term mindfulness practice increases our happiness level significantly, even at a physical level.
6. It makes staff more resilient
Resilience, in most basic terms, is individual’s ability to recover from setbacks and adapt well to change. Similarly, in our brain, we have a region called anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), located deep inside our forehead. ACC plays important role in self-regulation and learning from the past experience to promote optimal decision making.
The research findings of Tang and his colleagues show that mindfulness training groups that went through only 3-hour practice have higher activity in ACC and also show higher performance on the tests of self-regulation and resisting distractors, compared to the control group (Tang et al., 2007, 2009). This means that with the help of a workplace mindfulness program, we can change our brain in the way we react to setbacks and make decisions in our life.
7. It shrinks the stress region in the brain
Amygdala is a key stress-responding region in our brain and plays important role in anxious situations. It’s known that high amygdala activity is associated with depression and anxiety disorders (Siegle et al., 2002).
The good news is that mindfulness practice can actually shrink the size of amygdala and increase our stress reactivity threshold.
Recent research performed by Taren and colleagues shows a connection between long-term mindfulness practice and a decreased size of amygdala (Taren et al., 2013). By practicing mindfulness, we can change how we react to stressful situations and improve our mental and physical well-being.
How long should you practice mindfulness?
According to Richie Davidson, one of the world’s most renowned contemplative neuroscientists, even 1.5 hours of mindfulness practice leads to structural changes in the brain. “We can actually be happier people. We can suffer less if we take responsibility for our own mind.’’