Could mindfulness work for you?

Stephanie Sparrow looks at the relevance of this brain training technique

Emotional intelligence, empathy and the ability to “show resilience”, are prerequisites of most social care roles and frequently specified in job adverts.

But how can busy professionals develop these strengths?  The answer is increasingly seen to lie in practising mindfulness, a technique which helps the mind to focus on the present and to ignore distractions and anxieties such as those caused by stress and technology.

Participants usually take ten minutes before or during the working day, to engage in a type of secular meditation in which they develop awareness and curiosity, with the aim of giving a measured response to situations, rather than giving a knee-jerk reaction. Advocates liken  this exercise to a gym workout for the brain,

Research

Any social care professional who is trying to find support for mindfulness training, either to secure it for themselves or to implement it with colleagues across their organisation, will find a raft of research and initiatives to back their arguments. In October 2016 the Mindfulness Initiative ( the secretariat to the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group which has trained 145 MPs in mindfulness) published Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace. Among its positive findings are, that to date, 45 workplace mindfulness research studies have linked mindfulness” to improved relationships at work, supporting collaboration and improving employees’ resilience in the face of changes.”

Director of the Mindfulness Initiative Jamie Bristow adds that those trained in mindfulness: “were better able to manage, and agile in complex and paradoxical conditions.”

Manage technology

So while mindfulness could help with the complex situations which shape the average working day in social care, Bristow believes that mindfulness can also help manage the pressures of technology. “Mindfulness helps us to see which habits are harmful.. and technology is one of these. We jump into email straightaway and respond to whoever is ‘shouting’ loudest”, he says, explaining that mindfulness can teach participants to be “more skillful and strategic” in planning their working day.

In turn, a well-planned working day allows social work professionals to “build self-care and resilience”, says workplace psychologist Margaret Chapman-Clarke. Chapman-Clarke has recently published Mindfulness in the Workplace (Kogan Page)and within the book (Chapter Six) makes the case for guarding against “compassion fatigue or burnout due to secondary trauma…one study found that 50 per cent of child protection workers had high or very high levels of compassion fatigue.” Practising mindfulness can “reduce emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation”, her book argues.

Despite the enthusiasm for mindfulness, there is, however, one proviso. All the experts agree that it is important to engage in mindfulness training with providers who meet national good practice guidelines or who trained with specialist centres  such as those found at the universities of Oxford, Exeter, or Bangor. A helpful register of teachers is available on BeMindful.co.uk, part of the Mental Health Foundation.

Who is practising mindfulness?

The extent of the take up of mindfulness training is impressive. Public and private sector organisations across the UK are offering the training to their employees, while the NHS has recognised its benefits in cognitive therapy and will fund 400 mindfulness teachers.

Local authorities are also promoting mindfulness training. At the Royal Borough of Kensington&Chelsea, social workers and teachers have attended courses, which a council spokesperson said “will hopefully help them manage stressful situations”.

At the London Borough of Hounslow workforce development manager Peta Newlin commissioned an eight-week mindfulness course which has been attended by a mix of people including those from social care, social work and the early years intervention team manager.

Feedback from the delegates includes that they “ feel able to use a mindful technique when dealing with a stressful situation, to focus on the here and now, dealing with difficult situations and to be kind to [themselves].”

For herself, Newlin, who practises three times a week for a minimum of ten minutes a session, feels that she becomes less tense when faced with difficult decisions or situations.

“I am able to take the emotion out so that I can see things for what they are,” she says. “ I understand that I can’t control other people’s behaviour, but have a choice about how to deal with the behaviours being displayed.”

She also reports feeling calmer, and more efficient in terms of focussing on the task in hand, and sleeping better. 

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