Posts Tagged ‘ Stress ’

The Mindfulness Revolution

Mindfulness Revolution

The Mindfulness revolution is here!

Even if you don’t practice Mindfulness or haven’t been on a Mindfulness course the chances are you have heard of the term.

It is now being taught in some schools, workplaces are using it to de-stress employees and it’s even being ‘prescribed’ by health authorities to reduce anxiety and relieve symptoms of depression.

For about a year and a half I have practiced mindfulness – it is part of my daily life and I get so much out of it. It is not for everyone – a colleague lately mentioned my interest in things that were a bit different and called it ‘fluffy’. That may be some people’s thoughts, but I have reaped the benefits of using various practices that work for me and discarded others that don’t. That’s the great thing about mindfulness, it is different things to different people and you take the pieces you like and leave the ones you don’t.

I have adapted this article from a post I wrote on the Silver Lining blog site.

What is Mindfulness and what is it not?

It is not daydreaming or thinking about the past or future. It’s definitely not hocus pocus and you don’t have to become a hippy to practice it.

Although scientists need to do more research into the benefits of Mindfulness, it is recognised by some neuroscientists and health providers as a way of reducing anxiety and stress. You can even do a Masters in Mindfulness now!

Mindfulness is about being in the present, being mindful of what you are doing here and now; this includes how your body feels, what emotions are you experiencing and just letting yourself ‘be’.

It can involve meditating as part of the practice of mindfulness, but the meditations are very much about shutting off distractions and focusing solely on ourselves.

Auto-Pilot – If you have ever driven or walked to work and seeming got there in ‘autopilot’, you are well aware of not being present. We can feel like our days slip away from us and we don’t fully enjoy the time we have. We also have stresses and commitments that keep us busy and don’t make time to think about our own health and wellbeing.

Taking time to be in the ‘here and now’ and examine how we are feeling is part of Mindfulness. It’s actually very simple!

The Neuroscience

When looking at the brain, scans have shown that the metabolic activity changes when we meditate. The active parts of the brain (shown in red on a scan) increase during meditation. This shows not only that meditation affects our minds, but it also affects how our brain works.

Dr. Michael Baim from the University of Pennsylvania says in his paper called ‘This Is Your Brain on Mindfulness’:

‘Several neuroscientists have shown that some of the brain regions activated during meditation are actually different in people who meditate regularly, and the most recent evidence suggests that the changes can occur in as little as eight weeks. This finding is at odds with what we think we know about brain structure in adults…’

‘ We used to believe that sometime shortly after twenty-five or thirty years of age the brain was finished with growth and development. From then on, the brain became progressively impaired by age and injury, and it was all downhill from there. But recent meditation research suggests that this glum outcome may not be inevitable.’

Using mindfulness meditation can be compared to going to the gym – the more you work out your muscles (in this case brain muscle) the stronger you get.

Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, a researcher in the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital, looked at the brain’s cortex (the outermost surface of the brain). She found that when brain images of two groups were compared, meditators and non-meditators, some cortical areas in the brains of the meditators were significantly thicker than the same areas in non-meditators.

The cortex wastes away with age; but in Lazar’s meditating subjects, these enlarged areas were the same thickness as what was measured in non-meditators twenty years younger.

Areas of the brain that are important within this region of the brain are the prefrontal cortex which manages higher cognitive “executive” functions like planning, decision making, and judgment, and keeps us out of trouble by facilitating socially appropriate behavior. Also, the insula which controls sensation and emotion, and processes social emotions such as empathy and love. It is thought to be essential for the capacity for self-awareness.

Practice

Mindfulness practice, also referred to as Mindfulness meditation, takes time to master. Here’s a few ways you can practice…

  1. Chocolate Meditation

We all eat without thinking. Get a piece of chocolate (I prefer dark chocolate because of its health benefits and greate range of flavours!) and put it on your tongue. Spend a few minutes letting it melt – think about the texture and all the flavours you experience.

  1. Noting – Using Your Breath

I use this regularly; when I feel stressed or need to take the emotion out of a situation. I also used in recently when I had to take 6 flights within a space of 2 weeks – for those who know me well, you know I passionately dislike flying!

If you have ever studied Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) you will understand that thoughts lead to emotions and potentially negative actions. This is a great way to break that cycle.

Breath in slowly and whilst doing so say (in your head) ‘breathing in’. Then, on your slow out-breath say ‘breathing out’. Repeat just focusing on the breath.

This noting will help you avoid distractions and get in tune with your breath. It will give you a great sense of calm.

  1. Happiness – Taking The Time To Be Present

With all the stresses and strains of daily life, we forget about what makes us happy and what we are grateful for. Take 10-15mins to write down what makes you happy and what you are grateful for.

5 Things People Do To Look Really, Really Busy

Top 5 Office Pet Peeves (Leadership Quote)

Be the Gazelle

There is much to admire about the gazelle. She is a beautiful creature—delicate and graceful yet agile, fast and resilient. What makes her truly remarkable is her unique ability in response to a life-threatening situation to literally just shake it off. You’ve probably seen a similar National Geographic video: a gazelle is grazing with the herd when she suddenly becomes the target of a ravenous cheetah’s hunt. One second she’s foraging and the next she’s running for her life. Instantly her heart is pounding and adrenaline is racing through her veins as survival instincts take over. Watching this scene you can’t help but think, “this is NOT going to end well,” but the cheetah unexpectedly gives up. When the gazelle realizes she’s no longer being chased, she slows to a halt and waits to ensure that she is safe. Then something incredible happens: she starts shaking and quickly her entire body erupts into convulsion. Her nervous system is physically discharging the excess energy and arousal that it no longer needs. Soon she’s bounding off across the plain…time to get back to the herd.

Image

Have you ever had an experience in which you were faced with some kind of threat (physical or psychological) and as fear creeps in, you start trembling uncontrollably? I will never forget the moment when this happened to me two years ago. I was faced with an absolutely overwhelming situation that I didn’t know how to handle and suddenly it started–I began shaking and I couldn’t stop! It’s a very strange sensation. I felt completely helpless until I realized what was happening and thought to myself, “yes, be the gazelle.”

Self-leadership is predicated on self-preservation and it comes down to being adaptive. We must be keen to what’s happening around us and prepared to react appropriately to any trial. Evolution has made it difficult for humans to simply shake off the physical and emotional effects of trauma, but we all have the innate capacity to organically restore our own inner balance. Absorbed negative energy can be detrimental to our health, making us inefficient and more vulnerable to future stress.

What are you holding onto that’s preventing you from returning to the herd? What is keeping you in place, at risk, or in peril? Life is tough. You never know if a cheetah is lurking in the bushes waiting to attack. The next time something confronts you, terrifies you, or chases you to the point of exhaustion, don’t just collapse and surrender. Get back up and shake it off! Let go of whatever you’re carrying around that no longer serves you. Shake off the fear of failure, the anxiety of the unknown, the soreness of the sprint, the ordeal of a near miss. Don’t let a setback paralyze you. Shake it off and move on.

In the midst of challenge it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty before us. Look to the horizon…the sun is still shining and the grass is still growing across the plain, so get back out there and enjoy it! Be the gazelle.

About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on the study of mindfulness. You can contact her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Tips to Contain the Crazy: Increasing Productivity While Reducing Stress

I love to learn new ways to increase my own productivity while also reducing stress. I call it containing the crazy. Like many of you, I cling to my calendar, my to-do list…I shudder to think of the chaos should I ever lose my phone.

Tips to Contain the CrazyRecently, I decided to try some new ways to be more productive and less stressed:

1. Spa water – in a scientific study, those who were fully-hydrated had improved mood and were less sleepy. So, I decided to try drinking spa water (sometimes called “infused water”) and I’m hooked. You get your water in for the day and it’s flavored without all the calories and chemicals. Refill as needed and enjoy. Here is a wikihow on how to make spa water:

How to make spa water

2. Concentration Music – it is said that listening to baroque classical music has been scientifically shown to improve mood, productivity, and concentration. So, I decided to give it a whirl and wouldn’t you know, it works! I get more work done faster and more precisely while being relaxed the entire time. Gotta love classical music! Here is a sample for your listening pleasure:

3. A Timer – scientific studies also show we have a limited attention span for tasks. This time has varied in studies anywhere from 10 minutes to up to 40 minutes. So, I set a timer and only worked on a task for a specified period and then took a break. I also used a timer to go back and forth between tasks. This has worked wonders for getting many more things done in a day than I could have imagined. A link to a fabulous, easy-to-set online timer:

Online Timer

These tips for containing the crazy work well for my own personal work style and help me to be a more calm, productive, and focused leader.

Share with us your tips to contain the crazy, increase productivity, and reduce stress. No matter how unique they may be, please share! What works for you?

A Much-Needed Time of Rest

It has been a while since I’ve taken time off for a vacation (or “staycation” in my case, since I’m really a homebody).  However, I’ll be taking some time off starting next week.  I am quite giddy as I’m watching the clock counting down to the end of business today.  I can’t wait to leave my responsibilities behind!

After reading that, you might be thinking that I hate my job or my work environment or my coworkers (or all of the above).  It’s actually quite the opposite.  I have a great job where I’m challenged on a regular basis.  My company has the greatest culture out of any company where I’ve previously worked.  My coworkers are all more like family than simple associates, and I know that if I’m in trouble or need support, I can always rely on them.

However, even though I appreciate all of these aspects, I’m burnt out.  I feel mentally exhausted.    I’ve lost some of that passion I’ve carried with me in the past.

Being challenged at work is a great thing.  It leads to both personal and professional growth.  However, it’s also a cause of stress.  When you’re challenged over and over again without any breaks, it’s like someone has access to your personal stress button and they’re trying to break it by stomping on it repeatedly.  

For others out there, maybe challenges aren’t the problem.  Maybe it’s a lack of challenges, or perhaps doing the same routine day-in and day-out.  Whatever the source, all of us eventually get exhausted and need to get away from work in order to recharge our batteries. 

Various studies have shown that vacations allow workers to come back to the office feeling refreshed and more productive.  Confused.com compiled statistics from some of these studies and listed additional benefits of vacation, such as having a better feeling about life, or longer life expectancy in certain individuals.  

Unfortunately, not everyone has vacation time through their employers since it is not mandated by the federal government here in the United States.  Some businesses simply deny their employees this benefit. 

I have not personally seen a business do this, but I did have a friend who was denied paid time off for the first two years of their employment.  To think about working for 2 years without a break seems crazy.  They even admitted to me that they were not feeling engaged by the end of that 2-year span until they were able to take some time away from they office.

What amazes me the most is that for those of us who are fortunate enough to receive paid time off in the US, the average American worker does not use all of their vacation time each year.  According to a study by Expedia, the average number of vacation days provided each year is 14, yet only 12 of those days are typically taken.   It’s a shame because those vacation days are meant to be used and not stockpiled.

It doesn’t matter if you’re someone who is head-over-heels in love with their job, or someone just in it for the paycheck.  If you’re one of those individuals who does not use all of their vacation time, use it up!  You need that time away for your own mental health.  You’ll feel better about yourself and about your work.

Leave your comments!

%d bloggers like this: