What a Difference a Year Makes to our Work Lives, Home Lives and Mental Wellbeing
In April 2019 I gave a talk on Mindfulness in the Workplace at City Hall in Cork for the ‘Cork Body & Mind Experience’. Yesterday, I came across my notes. One line in particular struck me “ In less than a single generation how we spend our time has changed, the fact that our working lives are less distinct from our home lives is having a significant impact on our minds and our mental wellbeing”.
Wow. Roll on April 2020.
What strikes me now, is how much has changed in one short year …one short month. If I were giving that same talk today, I would say “In less than a single month, how we spend our time has changed, our working lives are largely indistinguishable from our home lives …….”
During my talk, I noted how we shift our attention approximately every 45 seconds and we do it all day long. Roll back 10 years and attention shift was every 3 minutes. What is it now? I don’t know, but I would suggest a lot lower than 45 seconds. 2019 Research showed that office workers checked their emails 75 times per day & shifted tasks on their computers 566 times per day – the mental equivalent to running a marathon 7 days per week. This number too has probably increased with many of us now home based, glued to our phones and laptops.
Tools & Techniques
Having a set of tools and techniques to support our mental wellbeing is so important now for our future in terms of mental resilience, positive mindset and our ability to adjust to our new reality.
Mindfulness means being aware of our experiences, observing them without judgment but it can also mean doing nothing, just letting our minds be and paying attention to one task. Doing nothing has changed, not so long ago when we did nothing, we actually did nothing. Now doing nothing can often involve scrolling on our phones whilst watching TV or eating dinner.
Now more than ever we are being asked to do more, with less
When we ask our brains to work too hard it can be stress inducing. Right now, we are asking our brains to be employees, employers, colleagues, mothers, fathers, teachers, PE teachers, chefs, carers all the while being loving, caring, nurturing, cheer leading master motivators. Too Much !. Neuroscience tells us that shifting from one thing to another puts strain on our brains as we deplete our neuro-resources. Neuroscience also confirms that humans aren’t great at multitasking as distinct from being good at shifting between tasks.
Some flags we can look out for to signal we are asking too much of our brains:
- Unable to remember what others have said during conversations
- Unable to remember eating or finishing food
- No real recollection of your day or yesterday
- Paying more attention to your smartphone than to the person standing in front of you or your child
The good news is we can retrain our minds to focus more. Evidence shows we can actually change our brains – this is called Neuroplasticity.
Small Changes = Big Impact
I have summarised some tips from my talk in 2019 aimed at helping us lead a more mindful life with an increased ability to meet our current challenges
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), listening to calming music is one of the most effective ways to help reduce anxiety and induce relaxation. Listening to calming music is a great anytime alternative to extensive outdoor exercise and you can still do this on your 2k walk, alone or together in company.
Time in Nature
Get outdoors. Nature can be soothing and it can also help increase clarity of thinking. There is a reason outdoor exercise is permitted during this lock down. Whilst not everyone has access to beauty spots right now, we have an abundance of fresh air, fine weather and spring is underway, with new life bringing hope and potential. And for those of you who aren’t big exercisers the mere act of “being” in nature derives the same benefits as exercising in it – SO NO EXCUSES!!
As our work and home lives merge even more than ever, during the workday take a short stroll outside or open your window – let the birdsong in or the buzzing of a bee. Can you have a telephone call outside?
This is a simple form of mindfulness that only requires a pen, paper and a few minutes to record your thoughts. During our current restrictions keeping a gratitude journal is such a positive step in shifting your mindset from the negative news cycle to the positivity of small but wonderful things in your life. Try writing down 3 things you are grateful for today, 1 thing you will start doing, 1 thing you will continue doing and 1 thing you will stop doing.
By establishing small positive habits which focus on our wellbeing, bring awareness to how we are living and working right now, will stand our physical and mental wellbeing in good stead as we strive to build our resilience, retain a positive mindset and adapt to our new reality.