Mindfulness: a tool for reducing workplace stress
A career in community housing can be very rewarding. Providing stable, affordable housing is for many, a source of great pride and satisfaction but the realities of the sector – funding shortages, operational issues, managing challenging tenancies, etc. – can cause high stress levels in frontline staff and management alike, often resulting in decreased productivity and staff burnout.
What can we do to help mitigate these concerns? Studies show that practicing mindfulness can reduce stress in the workplace and help increase overall quality of life. We spoke to Trish Tutton, Mindfulness Teacher and speaker at the 2019 ONPHA Conference, to find out more about mindfulness and its benefits.
“My simple definition of mindfulness” says Trish, “is having our attention, our mind, our focus in the present.” This is counter to how we tend to think. Whether our thoughts wander to the past to relive events that we wish had happened differently, or into the future, planning and worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, keeping our attention focused on the here and now can be challenging. This lack of focus can create a self-defeating cycle: feeling overwhelmed by the work ahead of you, or thinking about things you could have done differently, can take your attention away from things currently within your power, in turn causing you to feel overwhelmed, and so on.
The key to overcoming this challenge, Trish explains, is “practicing being more mindful [to manage] our stress better so we can be healthier and happier, more focused and productive at work, and [to] simply increase our quality of life, spending less time ruminating about the past and the future”.
A good starting point is practicing calm, which Trish describes as “understanding that we can control our inner state. Our outer world might be rife with stressful moments and encounters, but we can spend a few minutes a day practicing calm”.
Trish offers the following simple exercise to get you started:
Breathe in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 4. Use a timer for just 1 minute (or longer if you have the time!). The key? Noticing when your mind wanders and keep bringing the attention back to the present moment as you breathe. Start small – one minute is a great start! If you try to do too much too soon – the chances that you’ll give up go through the roof. Try one minute a day for a week and see how you feel.
This exercise can also help with another element of practicing mindfulness, which Trish calls “slowing down to speed up”. She explains: “Most of us are going 100 miles an hour through life, thinking that the faster we go, the better. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the key to feeling like we have more time is slowing down. [The above technique] allows your mind to start slowing its momentum down, and will actually help you feel like you have more time during the day allowing you to be more productive, focused and effective”.
“Practicing calm and slowing down will ultimately help you to respond instead of react”, Trish continues, referring to how we can react to situations without clearly thinking things through. “We are stressed out feeling like we have no time so when we encounter a difficult moment, perhaps with a colleague or a loved one, we’re reacting immediately. We know we’ve reacted instead of responded when we look back on our actions and regret the way we spoke or acted – realizing that it wasn’t the most appropriate or it created more frustration. By practicing calm and slowing down we can be more purposeful in our interactions with others, taking our time to consider the most useful response in a given situation vs. simply reacting based on our emotions. Less reactivity in relationships means better communication and less negativity.”
Challenging your reactive impulses can start with small actions. When practicing mindfulness techniques like the one above, it’s easy to let your thoughts wander. Acknowledge thoughts like ‘I’m going to open my eyes and see what that sound was’ or ‘I should start making dinner soon’, but don’t act on them. Keep your eyes closed and continue your practice. You’re responding by acknowledging these thoughts, but you’re choosing not to react to them.
Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis requires building new habits and taking time for reflection and checking in with yourself through exercises like the one above. Trish suggests a simple mindfulness exercise that can be done without taking time out of your daily schedule:
Do a self check-in every once and a while – perhaps during a meeting, conversation or working on a project – ask yourself “where is my mind?” Notice if your mind was wandering – remember this is totally normal! If your mind was somewhere else, gently bring it back to the present moment by noticing exactly what you’re doing. By doing this you’ll enhance your focus, lower your stress and improve your state of mind.
The benefits of mindfulness are many: increased productivity, creativity and problem-solving at work and most importantly, decreased stress levels and an improved sense of wellbeing that will carry over into your personal life. Getting started is as simple as taking one minute out of each day.
Download Trish Tutton’s Three Minutes to Calm for free!