As a scientist, I love doing experiments. About 9 years ago, I got to be in one myself. It didn't involve a laboratory or any test tubes but it did require finding a comfortable place to sit or stand, lay down, walk or even enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack. The purpose of the experiment was to determine effective means for decreasing employee stress while enhancing resiliency and well-being. How would they make this happen? By designing and implementing a mindfulness program to employees in the test group.
Mindfulness is all about calming the mind chatter and being fully present in the current moment. The first exercise we participated in was intended to raise our awareness of how much our minds are spinning with thoughts from the past or worrying about what might happen in the future. A lot of time we are thinking about anything but what is currently happening in the moment. We were instructed to sit up straight, close our eyes, relax and focus on our breath as we came into the present moment. The next step was to count backwards from 10 down to zero. Then as soon as a thought popped into our head, we were to go back to 10.
I repeatedly found myself back on 10 after barely making it off 9. There was always something popping back into my head, whether it was an e-mail that I forgot to reply to, an errand I needed to run before picking up the kids or a phone call to schedule service for the car. Rarely did a moment pass that I wasn't interrupted by thoughts like this. Thoughts that distracted me from the exercise and led to increased stress and anxiety.
The instruction went on for a few weeks where we learned how to do the mindfulness exercises effectively. We were given multiple exercises to choose from and had recorded meditations we could listen to for guidance. Some involved just focusing on our breath and some meditations added the other senses as well with meditations on sound, touch, taste, smell or sight. We even did a meditative walk.
At the beginning, it was very hard to focus and I never felt like I was doing the exercises well. I was already stressed out and not doing well with the meditation was going to increase my frustration. All I really needed was more time to get all my stuff done. I didn't need sitting and breathing, I needed productivity! I agreed to the experiment and wanted to be a good sport so I did my best to try and sit and do the breathing exercises every day. Often times my mind would jump all over the place and when it didn't it was because I was so exhausted that I would find myself falling asleep.
Then after a few weeks, I started to notice something. Gradually I found myself experiencing a positive calming effect following each mindfulness break. It made me want to do the exercises more. The more I practiced mindfulness, the more relaxed and at ease I felt and the more I craved doing the exercises. I found myself getting better at the practice and would use the mindfulness tools to stay calm in stressful situations. And in general, things that typically caused me anxiety were less of a big deal. I really enjoyed mastering the tools and took extra training sessions to learn how to guide others through meditation practice.
At the end of the study, the participants were surveyed and the results showed that the employees in the test group who created a daily mindfulness habit had a significant decrease in feelings of stress while experiencing an increase in resiliency. The work was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2014 and is entitled: Mindfulness Goes to Work: Impact on an Online Workplace Intervention.
I continue to use mindfulness every day and find it particularly beneficial during busy times like the upcoming holiday season. Mindfulness keeps me calm and brings a lot of peace into my life that I am very grateful for. It is something that anyone can do anywhere they find themselves. I want to share some of my favorite tips with you so I am creating a Merry Mindful Christmas calendar to be released after Thanksgiving. I will show you how you can build resiliency to stress by doing simple exercises every day to help you be present in the moment and find calm regardless of any chaos!