How mindfulness can help during times of stress in life and work

The practice of mindfulness can help us navigate times of uncertainty. A Vancouver counsellor describes how it benefits us at work and in the rest of life. 

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In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Practising mindfulness during times of uncertainty like this can be a helpful way to manage stress and make the most of life at home and at work.

One University of B.C. study that evaluated the impact mindfulness can have in the workplace showed benefits for people who practised it for as little as 5 minutes a day for 30 days.

To find out more about its benefits, I spoke with Marian Smith, a Vancouver counsellor who offers mindfulness-based counselling as well as group and workplace programs on stress reduction.

“People tend to live in a kind of absent, automatic way — going through the motions of life without really being there,” Marian says. “Through mindfulness, you learn to be more present inside of yourself and inside the moment.”

Improving our ability to regulate emotions and pay attention

There are a number of ways to practise mindfulness. One of the most common ways is to sit still and focus on your breathing.

“Paying attention to the breath has a kind of simplicity and focus to it, even though you’re going to find your mind wandering off to a gazillion places,” Marian says, adding that observing the questions and thoughts that come up when your mind wanders is an important part of the process.

A big advantage of mindfulness is that it can decrease our emotional reactivity. This can help when we encounter conflict or stressful situations. It’s especially relevant now, since many people are experiencing all sorts of emotions as they try to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic in their personal lives and at work.

“I think a lot of us suffer when our emotions seem to run things. Mindfulness allows us to step back and have a more balanced way of being with our emotions,” says Marian. “We’re able to observe our emotions but not be overwhelmed by them.”

Another advantage of paying attention to our breathing and thoughts is that it can improve our ability to focus on the task at hand and during meetings. As you practise noticing that your mind has drifted, over time you’ll recognize this more easily and be able to bring your attention back more readily.

For more on mindfulness, see this CBC news story about how mindfulness techniques can help combat struggles with stress and mental health. Also see WorkSafeBC’s COVID-19 information and resources page for more about staying safe at work, including protecting your mental health.

Thanks to Marian for telling me about her work.

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