Tuesday 16 July 2019

Got the return-to-work blues? Reading your child a bedtime story can help

Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Getting a few days out of the office at Christmas is not always the stress-free utopia we imagine, but it's a good opportunity to development an underused therapeutic tool.

In fact, spending more-than-usual hours with family when outside the workplace can often lead to tense situations, according to the Director of the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin.

"Mindfulness is essentially being able to respond creatively to experiences," Josephine Lynch told Independent.ie.

"It's about realising that we often get stuck in habitual ways of feeling and responding in certain circumstances. For example, I might always react to my sister [particularly at highly emotive festive times] in a particular manner; but we should try to pause long enough to realise that it's just a reaction.

"And then try saying something else or responding in a different way."

Mindfulness is no longer discarded as an 'airy fairy' activity; in fact, an increasing number of organisations are incorporating some associated class or course into their employee assistance programme.

As part of a series of reports into the health of corporate employees in Ireland, Vhi published A Route to Mindfulness: Finding the way to better health in the workplace last month.

More than 60pc of those surveyed considered mindfulness as an effective method for dealing with mental health issues, but just 18pc said that they had attended some related course. 

"It's like going to the gym. It's not enough to have a membership and think about going to workout. It's in the doing of mindfulness that a person feels the benefit, in the development of this muscle of awareness," said Josephine.

Employers are seeing the effective implementation of the practice within the workplace, she said, but seeing - or rather experiencing - is believing.

"Understanding how beneficial mindfulness is only happens if you have some experience of it; like tasting the difference between good and bad coffee. It might be more expensive - but it's definitely worth the cost.

"It's not seen as a panacea, but there's definitely a business case for it now." 

According to a separate survey commissioned by Friends First, and published earlier this year, mental health issues are now the most common illness in the workplace.

Two in five workers said they were suffering from stress and anxiety, pushing cancer and back pain into second and third place for workplace illnesses.

The survey, conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes, found that nearly half of employees under the age of 35 have taken extended sick leave of a week or more due to stress or anxiety.

"Quite a high percentage of employees are finding that their work is affected by an imbalance of work and life. They can be too tired for social connection, whether a parent or a partner, and that's not good for their family - or for their work," said Josephine.

"Mindfulness can help anyone seeking an effective way to manage day to day life, however it is not a quick fix option, practice must be delivered in a sustained and disciplined manner."

Josephine offered some tips for individuals looking to attempt some mindfulness in their day-to-day lives, an informal approach as oppose to an instructor-led course.

"It's the time in instead of the time out method. If you're on the way to work, don't think about the job you have to do, you're not getting paid for it. Enjoy the commute.

"Then when you get to work, really 'be' there also and do the best job that you can be. But, even then are moments; for example, a nurse who washes her hands many times a day: use that as a mindfulness break, focus solely on the washing of hands. The end effect is that the hands get washed an awful lot better."

Having 'time in' also works at home to enrich social connections with family and friends, according to Josephine.

"Read that bedtime story and put the phone away, play with your child and think of nothing else. Give yourself over fully - that's mindfulness."

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