Breathe in … and out: why companies are promoting mindfulness in the workplace

Yoga. Deep-breathing. Meditation. All three are a form of mindfulness, becoming more popular in pop culture, and even being incorporated into the workplace.

Mindfulness, which is defined as the mental state achieved by “focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique,” allows individuals room to think, re-prioritize tasks, and take a break from the stress of their day.

According to Dawn Bazarko, D.N.P, M.P.H., R.N., F.A.A.N, Certified Mindfulness Facilitator and Senior Vice President of Moment Health, mindfulness is as simple as “being present to what’s happening around you.”

M2, a mobile mindfulness studio in Arizona, reports that 22 percent of companies nationally already have mindfulness trainings in place.

So, why are companies incorporating it into the workplace?

Bazarko says that incorporating mindfulness into the office helps employees perform more effectively, have better workplace relationships, better conflict resolution, and reduced stress.

When our mind is quieter and we’re able to access all of our cognitive abilities we have that space to think about new ways of doing things, all of this leading to enhanced performance,” Bazarko said.

One of the primary things mindfulness practice has been proven, over-and-over again, to improve is stress,” Susan West, M2 owner and general manager, said. “80 percent of employees experience stress, and stress has been tied to about $300 billion worth of costs to companies. So, from a benefit standpoint, lowering stress then cascades into all sorts of things: Quality of work, quality of health, and the cost surrounding it, as well as quality interactions and [reduced] workplace conflict.

Studies have shown that mindfulness can help with self-control, objectivity, enhanced flexibility, equanimity, improved concentration, self-insight, and increased information processing speed, as well as, mental clarity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to relate to others and one’s self with kindness, acceptance and compassion.  

For Nicole Pepper, Wellness AtoZ coordinator, mindfulness is an important piece in overall wellness.  

“When you’re sharing about wellness, especially including the mindfulness portion, people begin to understand that it’s something simple and something that they can really infuse with things they’re already doing” Pepper said. “Just reducing the amount of stress in your life is important. Especially now, when we’re all walking around on our cellphones pretty much all day long, it’s really important to understand how to take those breaks and what those do for your overall wellbeing.”

Wellness AtoZ is a “community health initiative” of the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation. It aims to make the Greater Phoenix region known for their healthy talent and communities. The program complements existing wellness programs by encouraging companies to “EatWell, PlayWell, LiveWell and WorkWell.”

Wellness AtoZ’s mission is to help companies “invest in their most important resource – their employees.”

Pepper was brought on at the start of the relatively new founded initiative. She was in charge of promoting the program. She thought it was best to lead by example and started implementing wellness exercises at the foundation.

“[In house] we have set a reminder on everyone’s calendars at 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to take ten-minute wellness breaks,” Pepper said. “We’re seeing that when you allow employees to take that extra 20 minutes a day to release that stress, to feel empowered to take that break, they’re happier, they are more productive and of course that relates to everything they’re doing in their jobs as well.”

Mindfulness exercises can be as simple as taking time to make a list of what you are thankful for, focusing on your breathing for a few minutes, setting daily goals, connecting with nature, stretching, going on a walk, listening to music, or giving yourself time away from screens.

“Being mindful can be everything from when you stop at a stop light and instead of looking at your phone just take three breaths, noting three things that you’re thankful for, or recognizing negative self-talk… distancing yourself from [negative] thoughts,” West said. “It’s about becoming more self-aware, so, that you recognize what you are feeling, thinking and sensing [so] you can respond [to stress] in a way that is a thoughtful response, rather than a reaction.”

According to Pepper, wellness for some could include walking up a flight of stairs, taking a nice walk around the block, getting up from their desk to destress, or just looking away from their phone or computer and focusing on their thoughts and feelings.

One of the things I like to tell people is before you jump out of bed in the morning, before your feet hit the floor, just bring your hand to your heart and take three mindful deep breaths and practice some gratitude,” Bazarko said. “Setting an intention for the day, that’s a very small simple practice that takes a minute to do.”

Bazarko says that incorporating mindfulness into one’s everyday life does not have to feel like one more thing you have to do throughout the day.

“With things that we do normally but we don’t pay attention to, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, [it’s] just being present to your experience,” she said. “Walking mindfully instead of listening to music. Just being focused on what’s happening right now. All of this can be woven in throughout the day. So, it doesn’t feel like it’s one more thing you need to do. It’s just a way of showing up differently in life.”

Emily Richardson

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