• Claire Callaghan

In the moment - Mindfulness and resilience in times of change

Updated: May 30, 2020

Mental health is now firmly in the spotlight, and its link with physical health, performance, engagement with our surroundings and work is clear. 2020 is challenging workplaces like never before, with workers adapting to home work and employers using technology and ingenuity to support them.

According to the Office for National Statistics most recent figures on the social and health impacts of Coronavirus in Great Britain (1)

  • Almost three quarters (72%) were concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) was having on their life

  • Home working is difficult for some, with nearly a fifth of women (18.8%) and 10.7% of men finding home working difficult

  • Over 4 in 10 adults (43%) said their wellbeing was being affected. For those affected, over half of men (52%) and nearly 7 in 10 (69%) of women felt stressed or anxious, with nearly 4 in 10 stating not exercising as normal was impacting their wellbeing.

The impact of Mental health conditions is also significant, accounting for 12% of sickness absences. Alongside musculo-skeletal conditions such as neck and back pain, it causes significant disruption to working and personal life.

Unsurprisingly, we are finding ways to enhance our mental wellbeing and as a society, with practices such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga commonly used. With this in mind, I spoke to Francine Russell, a qualified coach practitioner (EMCC/EQA), with 25 years of experience in developing health-focused programmes. She is also a trainer and mindfulness coach.

I’ve heard that mindfulness can mean different things to different people. For you, as a

mindfulness practitioner, what does it mean?

Mindfulness for me means coming out of autopilot and having an awareness, moment-

by-moment, of my thoughts, feelings, and surrounding environment, so what’s going on

both in and outside of me. When we practice, our thoughts tune into what we’re

noticing and sensing in the present moment rather than the past or future. We don’t try

to change this, we just notice.

I think this quote by Jon Kibat-Zinn -Founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre puts it very well:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present

moment, and nonjudgmentally”

Mental wellbeing is now widely recognised as important in our ability to engage and

perform at work. At this time of change and uncertainty, how can mindfulness help us

remain resilient?

In times of uncertainty, Mindfulness is a useful resource in order to develop and

strengthen your resilience— it’s the inner calm, seeing options clearly, shifting

perspectives and responding flexibly, and persevering in the face of doubt. However,

practicing mindfulness is not an overnight job, it’s something that requires consistency to

make the changes. We can practice both through meditation and integrating it into our daily

lives, by setting an intention to pay attention. The practice is like flexing a muscle, in this

case the brain. There is ongoing research in this area to show how Mindfulness can aid mental health and resilience in times of stress and increased workload, or change in circumstances. One such study, published in the Lancet, looked at Cambridge University students’ mental health and resilience prior to and during the exam period. A group of students were given mindfulness meditation exercises, periods of reflection and inquiry, interactive exercises and home based practices and matched with a control group. Using standardised outcome measures for mental wellbeing, distress and anxiety, it showed that those who participated in the mindfulness and meditation practices reported less stress and anxiety during exams, with researchers concluding this demonstrates benefits of providing preventative mental health support alongside wider strategies (3).

Over the years I’ve learnt how to use breathing to control nerves or stay calm in potentially stressful situations. What are the mechanisms through which breathing helps us feel in control?

In a nutshell, mindfulness can induce the relaxation response. This response engages the

parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for restoring the body to base levels

after a stress response, calming it down by lowering the heart and respiratory rate, blood

pressure, and muscle tension. The breath is the anchor in mindfulness and this is what we

focus on in most practice in one form or another.

There are a multitude of breathing exercises that can aid this. My ‘go to’ and

recommendation for clients who suffer anxiety, sleep disorders or who want to reduce

anxiety in the moment, is Dr Weill’s breathing exercises.

Francine and I work alongside Nutritionist and Dietitian Sue Baic as part of the Wellbeing@Work Collaborative. For further information on our offering, including our 1 hour Virtual sessions on Physical and Mental Wellbeing for Home workers, see here.

(1) Office of National Statistics Coronavirus and the Social Impacts on Great Britain, 22nd May 2020. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/22may2020

(2) Sickness absence in the UK Labour Market: 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/sicknessabsenceinthelabourmarket/2018

(3) Galante J. et al. A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in University students (the Mindful Student Study): A pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 2018: Vol 3 Issue 2 E72-E81.


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