Stress

  • How Mindfulness Can Help Prevent and Ease Burnout

    Most kind of work brings with it some level of stress, whether we’re in a position that entails a lot of responsibility or whether we have deadlines and standards to meet. We may find ourselves doing more than one person’s job without the extra pay. Or we may simply just not enjoy our work and find that we are feeling stressed and low because we feel unfulfilled.

    Work-related stress may leave us feeling exhausted, disillusioned and all out of compassion or care for our fellow colleagues or clients. Burnout doesn’t just affect us as individuals, but also the people we work with and provide services for. We may find we’re more impatient with customers, or may get overly defensive when a co-worker offers some constructive criticism.

    Fortunately, mindfulness helps us spot the signs of burnout before they become severe, and can also improve existing symptoms. For example, studies have shown that after participating in an eight-week mindfulness course healthcare professionals saw improved scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory – a test which measures factors such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

    Recognising the Signs

    For some, burnout can creep up unnoticed. How many of us let our job take precedence over our individual well-being? Of course selflessness is admirable in certain circumstances however, when this attitude goes unchecked, we may start to see serious consequences in regards to our mental and physical health. Whilst we may think we’re doing a good job by dedicating ourselves so fully to the role, if our actions lead to burnout we’ll find ourselves no longer able to care about the role at all.

     

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    Although it may sound like a small thing, recognising and acknowledging how we are feeling is of vital importance. We can’t seek support without first noticing that we need to, and it can mean the difference between taking a few days off work to rest and being forced to take a long absence because of severe burnout.

    Through practicing mindfulness we become more aware of subtle changes in our mood and physical health, and can start to notice more quickly when we are struggling. Rather than waiting for a full meltdown before we take action, we can read the signals of our minds and bodies and start to take better care of ourselves.

    Using Creativity to Re-Focus

    It’s hard to pay attention when we’re exhausted or disillusioned. Whether it’s paperwork, or interacting with a client or colleague, tiredness and disinterest can lead to us making mistakes. When those mistakes are to do with someone’s health, finances or important services the consequences could be serious.

    However, staying focused becomes easier when we notice new and different things about a person or situation. Simply changing some of our fixed routines can help us see things in a new light, therefore keeping us engaged. For example, if you’re struggling to feel compassion towards a difficult client, practice mindfulness when you’re talking with them. Notice your beliefs about the person, and imagine that they may not be completely true. Try to see that person with fresh vision, as if you were meeting them for the first time. Or if the problem is repetitive paperwork, make small changes to help you focus. Try sitting in a different place. If you can’t do that, change the layout of your desk. Use a new pen and notice how it feels in your hand, notice how the ink looks on the paper. Although these may at first sound like pointless exercises, studies have shown that making simple changes to our environment or to our relationship with an object or action can greatly improve attention and focus. When we’re engaged with an activity, responding in a mindful way, we’re less likely to make mistakes or feel stressed.

    Self-Compassion and Self-Care

    How often do we show the same level of compassion to ourselves as we do for our loved ones and friends? Preventing or healing from burnout is impossible without taking care of ourselves and practicing some self-kindness.

    Far from being a fluffy or airy-fairy concept, self-compassion allows us to perform better in our jobs in a practical way, by preventing harmful burnout. Self-criticism and compassionately noticing where we can improve are not the same thing. Many of us confuse being hard on ourselves with being driven, yet without kindness we are likely to drive ourselves into a breakdown rather than towards long-term happiness and success.

    Using mindfulness to become aware of the ways in which we give ourselves a hard time, and to step out of habitual unhelpful ways of responding to our own emotional needs, helps us overcome or avoid symptoms of burnout and will also make us better at our jobs.

     

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  • The Mindful Way Through An Interview Or Presentation

    When we are facing an interview or a presentation, often what happens is that our minds start to ruminate about what might go wrong. You might have the thought: “I could blush, maybe even stutter, and what if I give terrible answers?!” Often these thoughts lead to yet more anxious thoughts and all those thoughts then lead to the bodily symptoms of anxiety, i.e. sweaty hands, increased heartbeat, faster breathing. Those bodily sensations then might trigger even more thoughts, which lead to more anxious feelings, which lead to more anxious thoughts …! So no wonder our anxiety builds and we end up blushing, stuttering and giving terrible answers!

    In mindfulness we don't try to change those thoughts or try to get rid of the anxious feelings. Instead we train our minds, so that when those thoughts occur we can come back to the present moment – to the here and now. The fact is there's no point in creating an apocalyptic presentation or interview scenario in our heads before the actual event. Why? Because all this ruminative thinking will only make us more anxious!

    But how do we train our minds? By practising mindfulness on a daily basis. By doing so, we strengthen our ability to catch our minds when they drift off into ruminative thinking and gently escort them back to the present. Over time, we become so skilled at this, that it only takes a few seconds to notice when we've drifted – we have become the master of our mind.

     

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    Mindfulness also teaches us to turn towards uncomfortable bodily feelings (i.e. anxiety). After all, anxiety is a natural feeling – especially when we face an interview or a presentation! But humans have the tendency to want to push things away that feel uncomfortable. However, it does not help to do this. As mentioned, anxiety is a natural part of human life. Thus if all we want for 'it' is to go away, then we will actually not really get to know it. The interesting thing is that once we start observing our symptoms of anxiety, we will notice that our anxiety is simply that – anxiety: increased heartbeat, sweaty hands, etc. What makes anxiety so bad is all the ruminating thoughts around it, which lead to the vicious cycle of more and more anxious thoughts and feelings.

    Let's imagine you have a presentation or interview tomorrow. Someone who practices mindfulness will notice thoughts popping up, such as “I could blush, maybe even stutter and what if I give terrible answers?!” They might also observe bodily feelings of anxiety arising. However, they will soon catch their anxious thoughts and bring their attention back to the present moment, where there actually is no real threat. They will also turn curiously towards and observe their bodily feelings of anxiety, i.e. Exactly how fast is my heartbeat? Where in my body can I feel it? Only in the region of my heart or does it even spread out into my fingers? If we approach our anxiety in a mindful way, it will loosen its grip over us with time and practice.

    Now imagine that if you don't spend all your time on what could go wrong and on trying to make your feelings of anxiety go away, you'll have loads of time to actually prepare yourself for the upcoming event! But don't forget: even the most experienced mindfulness practitioner will at times get anxious thoughts arising during an interview or a presentation. But he/she has the mindfulness skills to come back to the here and now – the presentation he's/she's holding or the interview he/she is giving – and that will make the likelihood of stammering, blushing and giving terrible answers a lot smaller!

     

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