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Covid-19 – The Rezl Initiative:  Get the Rezl app FREE – to reduce anxiety and stress

As the World Health Organization officially declared the covid-19 virus a “pandemic”, cities across the world are implementing preventative measures such as self-isolation, restricting movement, social-distancing and better hygiene to try to mitigate the number of cases.

This is creating fear and anxiety… and may even lower peoples’ immune systems.

The Rezl Initiative:  Get the Rezl app FREE – to reduce anxiety and stress

In response, Carina Sciences is making its Rezl app available FREE to those worried by the situation or even those in isolation.

Rezl uses Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy which is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and enable you to deal with stress, challenges and uncertainty.

Rezl is an app for Android  and iOS phones that builds resilience. Our resilience helps us respond to challenges and setbacks, enabling us to focus on the things we wish to achieve in our lives.  Research shows learning to be ‘mindful’ can increase our resilience in a lasting way.

For more information about Rezl please watch this video

We are making 2000 FREE licenses available right now. Hurry to claim your free Rezl app.·

For a free Rezl app, email free@rezl.com

You will then receive instructions to install and activate the Rezl. · Use of Rezl is anonymous but we may send you a short questionnaire in a few weeks so we can improve Rezl and provide better help to people in the future. Thank you and we wish you well in these difficult times.

Take care of yourselves.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C)

I have been looking at the research showing the impact of mindfulness programmes for highschool students.

There is a good summary on the Forbes website here: “Science Shows Meditation Benefits Children’s Brains And Behavior” https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2016/10/18/the-many-benefits-of-meditation-for-children/#508590e0dbe3

The piece highlights the research cases to demonstrate the impact of mindfulness programmes for kids:

Increased attention – Studies have shown that it can help kids concentrate.  Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children (MBCT-C) has also been shown to help improve attention and behaviour problems, and reduce anxiety in kids who started out with high anxiety levels. A study  showed, that in boys with ADHD, it significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration..

A bump in attendance and grades in school  –  scientific evidence, suggests that meditation in schools helps improve the things that school officials like to see – grades and attendance. A study found that mindfulness helped kids during high-stakes testing, by reducing their anxiety and boosting working memory.

A reprieve from outside trauma – Not all problems faced by kids are from within the schools. A lot of kids are dealing with major stressors at home. Mindfulness has been shown to help kids who are dealing with stressors.

Better mental health – A study  of MBCT-C showed the children who started out with high anxiety had reductions in anxiety symptoms at the end of the 12-week treatment. Another study found that an afterschool program consisting of yoga and meditation helped kids feel happier and more relaxed.

Self-awareness and self-regulation – Mindfulness is intimately connected to self-awareness (it’s almost the definition of it), and this extends naturally to self-regulation. That is, if you learn to be more aware of your thought processes and reactions in the present moment, it follows that you would be more in charge of your emotions and behaviors.  And the research has backed this up: one study found that kids who learned mindful awareness practices had better executive function (see previous blog post here) after eight weeks of training twice a week.

Social-emotional development  –  A study found that a social-emotional learning program coupled with mindfulness was more effective than a classic “social responsibility” program in several measures. Kids demonstrated greater empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional control, compared to the control group.

Yet, in addition to the wellbeing and the behavioural benefits, there are the academic performance benefits.  The UK’s Mindfulness in Schools Project provides link to  paper by Professor Katherine Weare of the University of Southampton who reviewed the research in support of the claims above (here) – affirming the positive impact of mindfulness on depression, anxiety, stress and the avoidance of self-harming and eating disorders; and the improvement of cognition and concentration… leading to better grades.  It seems a no-brainer.

Let’s look at a study by  University of Cambridge (Ref The lancet Public Health, Dec 2017):

At Cambridge University they measured the mental wellbeing of over 1000 students and then gave half of them an 8 week mindfulness course.  They measured the stress levels of the students prior to any training and then during their exam periods.

After the training,  “Mindful Group” showed lower stress levels: –

  • They were a third less likely to  less likely demonstrate stress levels above the threshold normally seen as meriting support.
  • Their stress levels at exam time peaked at levels that were actually below those before taking the course! Suggesting that the mindfulness training had  a long lasting effect to increase their resilience against stresses.

“The evidence is mounting to show that that mindfulness training can help people to cope with accumulative stress.   It appears popular, feasible, acceptable… and without stigma.”  – Professor Peter Jones (Neuroscience, Cambridge University).

So what exactly is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C)?

MBCT-C is a psychotherapy for anxious or depressed children adapted from MBCT. The primary aim is to improve affective self-regulation (= retraction to events and emotions)  through development of mindful attention and decentring from thoughts and emotions. The program consists of 12 weekly therapy sessions lasting 90-minutes, conducted individually or in small groups of 6-8 children. Activities are designed to be engaging and developmentally appropriate for children ages 8 to 12.

MBCT-C is described in the book “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Anxious Children: A Manual for Treating Childhood Anxiety” by Randye J. Semple and Jennifer Lee.  The scheme applies the ideas of MBCT in a way that is suitable for children through fun thought exercises and activities –  it includes actives to be done with the family in the home… though please note that the foreword makes it clear then such a programmes.

I hope more schools and colleges will embrace such MBCT-C programmes – not just for those kids with poor wellbeing… but for all pupils.

 

Mindfulness for Teaching Staff

According to some well known newspapers,  whatever is wrong with society… obesity, teenage pregnancy, drugs, drinking, homophobia, racism end even a lack of resilience… it’s always down to education… and to teachers.

Most teachers I know are stressed by the relentless stream of government driven changes in education, the need for schools to be excellent (…ofsted) or to produce the right GCSE results to inch up the league tables – the possibility of failure may cause pupils to vote with their feet and with them goes the funding… and the lower the funding then the less money to pay for resources and classroom support…. leading to an even bigger workload for the teachers.

It is not surprising that the government’s Teacher Wellbeing Report  (July 2019) shows that  teaching staff and education professionals have the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in the UK. The report shows that  “While teachers love their profession, enjoy teaching and seeing pupils flourish, the negative elements outweigh the positives. Staff are suffering from high workloads, a lack of work-life balance, access to limited resources and a perceived lack of support from senior leaders, and this leads to poor occupational wellbeing for many teachers.”

The report goes on to say that Despite the positive feelings towards teaching as a vocation and towards their workplace, many teachers believe that the advantages of their profession do not outweigh the disadvantages and that their profession is undervalued in society.”

So teachers are demoralised and feel undervalued – …that they can never be “good enough” – if a friend was saying these things then we would take them to the doctors!

The key points from the report state:

  • Workload is high, affecting work–life balance
  • Staff perceive lack of resources as a problem that stops them from doing their job as well as they can
  • Poor behaviour is a considerable source of low occupational well-being, and teachers do not always feel supported by senior leaders and parents with managing it
  • Relationships with parents can be a negative factor and a source of stress
  • Educators feeel they do not have enough influence over policy, which changes too quickly
  • Educators also feel that Ofsted inspections are a source of stress
  • Findings on overall support from senior leaders are mixed
  • Staff need more support from their line managers

Now clearly some of these issues are related to funding and resources – yet so many of them are related to the emotional impact of the education system on its employees.

It seems essential that more needs to be done to support the wellbeing of our teachers… and to help them to deal with their mood, anxiety and self-esteem… and to avoid taking the issues so personally.

Last year, when we were developing the rezl toolbox sessions to help people deal with pressure and stress, we listed the types of  situations that can cause people to feel stressed:

  • We may have too much to do – and feel overloaded…   working long hours…   
  • We worry that we can’t get things done in time – or achieve the quality we want – and we may feel that we will “let people down” by not delivering on our promises.
  • Or it may be that things are not going as we wish  …that we feel we are continually failing … and we may start to become desperate to turn things around    
  • We may have pressure to succeed …where we feel we are failing to meet “the expectations of others”…. or to meet our own expectations.
  • Or we start to fear being held responsible (….justifiably or not…) and feel ourselves becoming defensive.
  • It may be that our recent performance has left us feeling judged as incompetent; we may feel humiliated.
  • And sometimes, we may get stressed, when we face difficult challenges or issues  that we fear we can’t resolve at this moment and so we feel anxious.

(NB: we address an approach to all these things within the toolbox session.)

It seems to me that most teachers I know will be stressed by pretty much all of these dynamics.

Where “resource issues” are in play, and teachers feel overloaded with work,  then even the most conscientious teachers may start to feel that that they can’t “achieve/deliver the quality that they would wish– and this feeling is especially stressful.

Meanshile Ross McWilliam, founder of MindsetPro, and Claire Kelly, director of curricula and training at Mindfulness in Schools Project have published an article saying that schools and colleges should engage with mindfulness programmes  in order to ensure that they support their beleaguered staff https://edexec.co.uk/lowering-stress-levels-balancing-wellbeing-and-building-emotional-resilience/

They say It’s important to be aware of mental health; self-esteem, confidence and resilience are key components which underpin positive mental health and from which good mental health and wellbeing can be grown and nurtured. How do we take personal responsibility for this, and what can senior leaders do to nurture this desired outcome?”

They go on to suggest that research indicates that the regular practice of mindfulness can help teachers and senior leaders experience a reduction of stress, fewer sleep difficulties, increased emotional self-awareness and compassion and greater potential to create positive changes both in and out of the classroom. … and that this will be good for staff and for the students.

I looked at some of the research in a previous blog post about the positive results of providing such mindfulness programmes to education workers:  https://carinasciences.com/2019/06/04/mindfulness-staff-in-the-education-sector/

Studies had  found that academics are often isolated and anxious, in a system they feel is driven by financial targets – and that 55% of higher education professionals describe themselves as stressed and nearly 40% had considered leaving the sector in the past two years as a result of health pressures.

Yet research by K Weare  of University of Exeter highlighted evidence on the impact of mindfulness on the wellbeing and performance of school staff:

  • reductions in stress, burnout and anxiety, including a reduction in days off work and feelings of task and time pressure,
  • improved ability to manage thoughts and behaviour, an increase in coping skills, motivation, planning and problem solving, and taking more time to relax.
  • better mental health including less distress, negative emotion, depression and anxiety.
  • greater wellbeing, including life satisfaction, self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-compassion and sense of personal growth.
  • increased kindness and compassion to others, including greater empathy, tolerance, forgiveness and patience, and less anger and hostility.
  • better physical health, including lower blood pressure, declines in cortisol (a stress hormone) and fewer reported physical health problems. 
  • increased cognitive performance, including the ability to pay attention and focus, make decisions and respond flexibly to challenges.
  • enhanced job performance, including better classroom management and organisation, greater ability to prioritise, to see the whole picture, to be more self-motivated and autonomous, to show greater attunement to students’ needs, and achieve more supportive relationships with them.

Further,  a 2019 paper from Bristol University demonstrated that mindfulness-based interventions contribute to the overall educator wellbeing and this may increase students’ sense of connectedness to teachers without themselves undergoing any intervention:

  • lower levels of perceived stress
  • reduced sleep difficulty
  • higher levels of mindfulness
  • increased self-compassion
  • better emotion
  • Improved students’ sense of connectedness to teachers

I am certain that mindfulness really can really help to address the stress and anxiety of education workers; and colleges and schools must to introduce such initiatives.  They make fiscal sense (reducing absenteeism and staff turnover), educational sense and fulfil the moral obligation to their stressed-out staff.

And don’t underestimate the impact on the “connectedness of teachers to students – how can we expect depressed, anxious teachers to be inspiring motivating and encouraging to their students?  Surely the enhanced wellbeing of staff must drive better academic results.

In my next post -I will look at the impact of mindfulness programmes on the kids themselves – improvements in behaviour, mood, mental heath… and academic results.

Executive Function (EF) – the key to success.

I have been reading Walter Mischel’s excellent book “The Marshmallow Test”. The book explains Mischel’s work around the topic of self-control.  The title comes from an experiment to see if preschool kids were able to delay gratification – by having a choice between “one marshmallow now” or “two marshmallows later” (after say 10 minutes).  This test, or variations of it (- there were rewards other than marshmallows…) measured the child’s self-control or willpower.  It turns out that the test is a predictor of how the kids can control their behaviour, how they do at school, how they interact with others; and even into adulthood: their careers, relationships and their health (..connected to the ability to make healthy choices).   The original researchers in California and New York were able to track the progress of the kids for 40 years or more.

Basically, the book highlights the ability of participants to use their thinking brain – their “cool brain” – to avoid being highjacked by their emotional or “hot” brain.  This “self-control or willpower” is referred to as Executive Function or EF. The successful younger kids often used distraction or their imagination to “cool” the reward… or even tactics like reciting rules such as “I will wait for the two marshmallows” over and over.

Yet Mischel’s research also shows how all of us can develop our EF through training and practice – and at any time in our lives.  You see, our brains always have the ability to make and to remake connections – this is called “neural plasticity” – and this neural plasticity can be put to work to improve our EF.

For example, EF is shown to be improved by cognitive therapies including mindfulness… as we become more objective and aware of our responses and have better agency over our emotions, our unconscious reactions and our impulses.  This makes sense – mindfulness is all about non-judgemental awareness and becoming able to make appropriate responses.

So, for all of us it is never too late to improved our EF.  Good news!

The book also pointed me in the direction of a trial in British Columbia by Adele Diamond and her colleagues who carried out the first randomised controlled test to investigate the impact of some education games and exercises called “Tools of the mind”  (see https://toolsofthemind.org/  ) which were designed to improve the EF of five-yearolds – thereby making them more able to avoid distraction, to be able to focus on their work and to adopt a growth mindset.  The results were so good that some of participating schools asked for the experiment to be halted so that they could provide the same programme to the control groups kids.  This work is described in a paper titled “Randomised control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers” (here) ..

Diamond and her colleagues state: “This study replicated that Tools [of the Mind] improve reading and shows for the first time that it improves writing (far exceeding levels the school districts had seen before), self-control and attention-regulation in the real world (e.g., time on task without supervision).”

Within an eight months of commencing the trial three times more children on the programme than in control classes were reading at the grade one level …. and three times more children on the programme than in control classes were able to write a full sentence they themselves composed or multiple consecutive ones. Wow!

“This study found that Tools [of the Mind] not only improve academic outcomes in reading and writing, but also shows for the first time that Tools improves EFs in the classroom (…being able to stay on task and quickly resume work after a break), markedly reduces teacher burnout and children being ostracized or excluded, and increases the joy students and teachers experience in school.”

Even better than making a great start in their education – these kids will carry this improved EF throughout their whole lives. The icing on the cake is that these kids will see themselves as achieving and will develop a positive self-image that will help them to achieve more and to reduce the possibility of mental health problems.

Isn’t it time we paid more attention to teaching our kids how to use their brains – and teaching us adults too?

Resilience for Entrepreneurs – have your “beginner’s mind” available

I have been looking at research on building resilience for entrepreneurs.  Starting-up a new venture brings many challenges; and requires an ability to cope with increasingly complex, competitive and uncertain environments.   To prevail, an entrepreneur will need to master new skills… and quickly; and will need to work through many trials. They will undoubtedly need to be resilient.

The research shows that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MCBT) builds resilience to enable entrepreneurs to avoid wellbeing problems and to remain mindful throughout challenging periods. It shows that MBCT  is scientifically proven to develop long-term resilience; and it is a positive tool for to business leadership.  The research indicates that MBCT is increases life satisfaction, vitality and the quality of interpersonal interactions.  It shows MBCT can  reduce problems related to stress, anxiety and depression .  MBCT is shown to empower people to view events more objectively and impassively… and it enables them to regulate their thoughts, emotions and physiological reactions more effectively .  Good stuff.

Most researchers approach this topic by viewing resilience as comprising three domains: affective, cognitive and self-regulatory…yet they’re interdependent. The “affective domain” refers to the experience of positive or negative emotions and the ability to regulate, or have authority over, ones emotions.  The “cognitive domain” includes constructs that reflect individual’s thoughts, beliefs and evaluations of themselves (i.e. their understanding of their own abilities and their self-esteem) and their interpretation of the situation (i.e. perceived control).  The “self-regulatory domain” refers to the process of self-regulation –  and strategies for persistence, willpower and grit… and for coping with their emotions, impulsiveness, pressure or stress. The entrepreneur will benefit from nurturing all three domains so that they build up the psychological fitness needed to enable them to respond to challenges.

What caught my eye in some of the material were references to self-awareness and the value of retaining a “beginners mind”.

You see,  many would-be entrepreneurs  have a lot of self-confidence (…and I mean a lot…) – which can be good… but it can cause blind spots!  It can manifest as a lack of self-awareness, referred to as  “cognitive/negativity bias” where a person suffers from “illusory superiority” by  mistakenly assessing their ability as greater than they possess. The danger is that they can fail to recognise their own limitations and/or weaknesses.  This an academic way of saying they are “overly self -confident”… and that can lead to problems!

One way around this, without battering the entrepreneur’s self-confidence, is to promote awareness –  including awareness of their own abilities and weakness… yet  also to learn to observe situations objectively – with curiosity – without prior assumptions – with a “beginner’s mind”

“Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryū Suzuki is a thought provoking book.    Suzuki’s tells us “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything… it is open to everything”.

Of course an expert mind is invaluable in many situations … but it’s not “either-or” – it’s both.  When things are unexpected or unexplained then it is important to investigate the situation and to carefully select the right solution…  it might be unhelpful if you are misdirected by your own current wisdom.  You should always stand back and be curious with your “beginner’s mind”…assuming nothing.

So – don’t be deceived by your own self-belief – always be ready to approach a situation with your beginner’s mind.

 

The Joy of Rajio Taisou

Over the last 40 years, a number of Japanese manufacturers have established factories in the UK.  They brought “just in time” and Kanban methods to their factories here …and also their habit of having staff take part in daily communal exercises.  In Japan, they call it “Rajio Taisou” – “rajio” which means radio and “taisou” which means physical exercise.

Studies have suggested that this daily exercise  leads to better employee health (i.e. less illness and reduced longer-term conditions like heart disease etc) leading to less absenteeism; and also to fewer accidents in the workplace – perhaps the exercise increases strength and co-ordination.  Employees say that the exercise fosters a stronger sense of community within the workforce.

Yet I am interested in the impact of Rajio Taisou upon mental wellbeing.  It would seem that such an exercise regimen provides a useful “cue” – to enable people to “get ready to work” – but I think it is deeper than that.

In a previous blog I looked at the way we can often take our mood (anger, aggression, upset, depression or anxiety) from one area of our lives into the next. Rajio Taisou often uses slow “co-ordination exercises” that require concentration – providing an opportunity to “decompress” and free the mind from chatter, rumination and anxiety.  This may well have the effect of setting aside the emotions that the staff bring into work with them… allowing them to then focus and engage in their work without such “internal distractions”.  In fact the evidence does show that concentration is improved and mistakes are reduced.  And it may lead to an “endomorphine rush” or even an absorption, or “flow experience”, that could both create a feeling of happiness.

Finally,  studies show that we often take habits from one part of our lives to another.  Starbucks was at one point the USA’s largest educator as it sought to teach its staff “self-reliance” (i.e. personal organisation and wellbeing so that staff increased their self-confidence and ability to engage with customers).  It seems that by becoming better organised in their domestic arrangements then they would bring these habits into their sport, their work, their diet and their interpersonal relationships.  It could be that Rajio Taisou achieves a similar effect of  introducing organisation into the start of the day.

The Starbucks case study is a fascinating story – as is the case whereby industrial giant Alcoa was transformed by a programme that had the whole company focus on safety… but curiously this had the effect of boosting productivity and empowering staff to increase innovation… such that the business results were very impressive.

As you might expect I am very interested  to identify a company that might become the “mindful company” – so that by focusing on supporting staff to improve their mindfulness the results would go beyond the immediate gains of reducing absenteeism, staff turnover and mistakes – but could also empower staff and increase openness and psychological safely to drive  innovation and change.  I am thinking that any kind of consumer facing or care or educational organisation might be right for such a programme. Please contact me if you might be curious.

Don’t let your recent past mess up your present …or your future

A contact suggested that I check-out  Adam Fraser on YouTube.   Basically Fraser’s ideas seem to centre around the way we take our emotional states from one part of our lives to the next – and how helpful it is if we can avoid doing so.  So arriving at work after  a row at home might impact on our day – and similarly, arriving home while still pumped up over work issues might not be great for our evening!

I read  “The Up-Side of Irrationality” by Dan Airley.  Amongst the many fascinating insights into how we behave irrational, Airley described an experiment where they looked at the persistence of mood (“priming”) from one task to the next …and how it can cause us to adopt an “unhelpfully” position or actions.  In one experiment he “primed” some subjects to be “mean-spirited” and then asked them to make some unrelated  decisions… unsurprisingly perhaps, the mean-spirited took that attitude into their subsequent decision making.  What was more amazing was that when they went back to the task weeks later the subjects  still took the same types of decisions  in comparison with a control group – so this suggests that the effects of such “mood priming” can persist for months once established!

So if you have a car accident on the way to work – and then deal with the needs of some new client then you might let the one thing impact on the other –  and you may be little too harsh.  Yet Airley shows us that you may continue to “punish” the client that way… even when the traffic accident is a dim and distant memory… and your sleek bodywork has been fixed.

So what to do? – Well the US military has shown that practicing mindfulness means that soldiers need less decompression after stressful or high pressure experiences;   and are less likely to suffer PTSD.  And mindfulness can allow people to find “acceptance” for situations or for the actions of others. [NB: by “acceptance” I mean “accepting that these things have happened” rather than accepting that they were “fair and just” etc.]

So it seems  we need a kind of “emotional airlock” after torrid events… or when moving from one experience to another .  A brief grounding meditation – may take only seconds – buy might limit this emotional contagion.

In my next blog post I will look at how “Rajio Taisou” – Japanese daily “radio exercise”  practiced in factories –  might be doing just that.

The Happiness of Flow

I recently received some feedback from a friend trying out our Rezl app.  Rezl builds resilience by delivering  a course in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) though a series of audio tutorials and guided meditations.  The early steps involve becoming more aware, to avoid distracting thoughts… and to become more able to focus.  My friend’s feedback represented an enthusiastic response to his early progress. One comment caught my eye:

“My brain has become much better at absorbing information, there seems to be much more clarity – that sounds strange. It’s different… and it makes me happier.”

It’s true that less detraction and more focus enable us to concentrate on what we read, hear and see… and to retain more; yet there is something else here.  My friend is starting to  experience “flow”.

Flow is a state of engagement and heightened awareness while participating is some activity.  It is beautifully described here in Melli O’Brian’s mrsmindfulness.com blog:

“Time seems to slow down, your sense perceptions are heightened – colours are sharper and brighter and each sound seems to ripple right through you.  Your mind shifts into a new space. A sense of vibrant aliveness, connectedness and peace infuse your being. You feel in tune with life, moving with a precision and poise you don’t fully understand but at the same time relish. You’re in the zone. You’re in flow.”

The state of flow is often associated with elite athletes, actors, writers or even with scientists and mathematicians. The basketball superstar Larry Bird said that, for him,  at critical moments in the game, the court would go quiet and the players would seem to be moving in slow motion.  This state allowed Larry to see the whole situation; to see opportunities and to be crystal clear on and what he had to do.

So what’s going on? Well I believe that it’s about being able to shut out external distractions and quieten any internal mind-chatter and thoughts of the past or of the future;… and to set aside bigger goals… so you can focus, right now, on the task in hand;  and this leads leads to an intense focus… that builds engagement… and total absorption… to achieve “flow” … where time distorts… your senses are heightened… everything become clear… as you take the actions to succeed. Flow delivers a state of happiness that leaves a lasting glow.

“In flow, your ‘ego’ withdraws, making way for the process to happen, unimpeded— you’re not conscious of inhibitions, hunger, thirst, fatigue, aches or anything outside of the activity. All worries, thoughts and memories seem to melt away,” says Melli O’Brian.

Dr. Mihaly Chentmihalyi, studied this state of being and coined the term “flow”  (see his book  “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”); he tells us that things, possessions, money  don’t play much part in how happy someone is. He found that humans are at their happiest when in flow –  in part because when we are so absorbed in a single task, we don’t have enough attention left over to get lost in the inane chatter of our “monkey mind”, to worry about things beyond our control, or to stress about our endless to-do-list.

The new experience of flow is especially rewarding for those setting out on embedding the skills of mindfulness – grounding to eliminate any distractions or mind-chatter; and awareness so that you are able focus and to  refocus should the mind wander.  Why not give it a try?

Don’t call me a snowflake.

A report in The Times tells us:  “72 per cent of those in Generation Z would be afraid of being branded a ‘snowflake’ if they took a sick day because of poor mental health, with 43 per cent saying that this would stop them taking one”.  (Generation Z is generally defined as those born after 1995. The survey was carried out by the graduate recruitment website  Milkround.)

And so it turns out that most of these Z-ers exercise the option to be “economical with the truth”:  The survey found that 62 per cent of Generation Z workers had taken a sick day because of a mental health problem but that only 24 per cent of these were honest about their reasons.”

It’s a big problem …the HSE tell us that mental health accounted for 57% of all sick days lost in the UK in 2018….  and this study shows the problem is even bigger for Generation Z:   across  all age ranges, 29% of workers had taken a “mental health sick day” and half of these felt that they could be open with their bosses; yet 62% of Generation Z workers had taken a “mental health sick day” but that only about a quarter of these were honest about their reasons.

So the level of “mental health sick days”  is significant for all ages… but the problem more than doubles for Generation Z – and for Generation Z the level of honesty plummets. Even if we make some allowances for, as some commentators suggest, the “mental health sick day” being the new version of a “bad back” or a ”day off after a late night out” – these results are still very high indeed.

The Times piece suggests this lack of openness might be because the generation Z-ers fear being labelled as “snowflakes” – but I expect it’s more likely to be due to their worries about the serious  longer term impact on their careers…  and their prospects of progression.

“Snowflake” is a pejorative term popularised on social media to stereotype young people; to suggest that they are more prone to feelings of distress and outrage than previous generations.; yet we know that generation Z-ers are slower to mature e.g. to leave home, to start families, to buy a home etc; while they value their “work life balance” (the flip side of this is that they are less prone to “work work work”); they have always had the internet so think nothing of connecting with other across thre world… at any time;  and they apparently have a strong  sense of individuality (- yet I suspect they just want to be like their friends as per all other generations!).  Of these traits,  I expect that while generation Z-ers do seek a life that has a better work-life balance they are a bit defensive about being seen as less committed to their work by their employers – yet this is two sides of the same coin.

In my opinion “snowflakes” should embrace the terms – and say “yes I want a better work life balance – to do otherwise will not make me more productive in the longer terms… for me or my employer”.

Now, it seems to me that most major employers are very tolerant and supportive of employees with  mental health problems (from whatever generation) – yet most private sector jobs are now within small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who may well be less tolerant*. So maybe it is time for the SMEs to get their act together and provide support to help  employees to avoid  mental wellbeing challenges.

As you may be aware, we at Carina Sciences are proving our Rezl app to employers to help build resilience within their employees – to help their staff to deal with stress and to reduce their likelihood of developing conditions like anxiety and depression.  The app uses Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The proof is in the pudding… and research shows MBCT significantly reduces absenteeism and staff turnover.  Yet it also  improves the performance of all employees:  research shows MBCT helps people to improve their focus and to make better decisions under pressure; and it improves their ability to listen;  it also improves “open mindedness” and empathy – research has shown that teams with mindful team-members are more effective and more likely to collaborate towards achieving team goals.

What were are finding is that, while many large organisations have programmes in  place, it is the smaller organisations  (<5000 employees) that often lack such proactive interventions.

So I guess the solution may be for “Snowflakes” to be more open about mental health and less defensive about their choice.. and for employers, especially SMEs, to be more supportive.

Finally, reading thru the comments attached to the Times article there were some clear themes including… Why do people stay in jobs that are causing them to have such problems? Of course, once you have a record of mental health absences then moving to any new job might be difficult – but I wonder if some people should continue with jobs or with employers that make them feel unwell – if you have a duff employer then move on quickly.

 

*In 2018 employment in SMEs however was 15.7 million i.e.60% of all private sector employment in the UK.  

Listen up – Mindfully

How effective are our conversations? Do we really understand the “points of view” of others?  Do we address their key issues? Do we understand “their reality”?  Do we clear make our own positions clear? When we interact with others,  are we listening, or, are we impatient to make our own points… even if these fail to answer the concerns of others?

In her book, “The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction”, Rebecca Shafir  tells us, that just a few minutes after a conversation, the average person can remember only 25 percent of what someone has said.  That’s just 25% – no wonder we often fail to respond to the right issues. (It’s a great book by the way …and really opens your eyes to the power of listening mindfully to improve your relationships with customer, colleagues and family).

It seems clear to me that we cannot address the right issues or even ensure that our own communication is effective unless we are able to understand the points of view… “the realities”… of those we converse with.  So let me introduce the idea of “Mindful Listening”.

The goal of mindful listening is to silence the external distractions and internal noise of your own thoughts; and to set aside any “barriers” that you may have so that you can hear the whole message, and so that the speaker feels understood. Mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mindfulness encourages us to be aware of the present moment, and to let go of distractions and of our physical and emotional reactions to what people say to us. To listen mindfully we must focus and observe without judging – and yes, it requires practice.

And further, we need to have empathy for the position of,  and the pressures upon, the person we are listening to.  Rebecca Shafir suggests that we need to “get into the other person’s movie” to see things from their point of view… to “inhabit their reality”  – I guess we need “to walk a mile in their shoes” so that we understand their priorities, their objectives and their concerns… if we don’t resister these issues then how can we help to address them?  This is all about empathy.

So, even if you are yet to work on your own mindfulness, here is a quick checklist to improve your listening skills.

  • Prepare… ground yourself – sounds deep doesn’t it? Yet to be ready to converse you need to set aside all the chatter in your own mind.  I mean the thoughts and emotions you are preoccupied with: worries, hopes, aspirations and emotions.  If you have had a disagreement yesterday or even a big win – or if you are apprehensive about some up-and-coming event – whatever it is you have to set it aside.  How can you concentrate on what someone is saying if your mind is elsewhere?  Try a simple breath mediation to clear you mind: breath slowly and count you breaths;  and if your mind wanders… as that is what minds tend to do… then restart from one again.
  • Be present – focus on the conversation – have time and eliminate external distractions – phones, interruptions or screens.
  • Listen… Allow the other person to say what then want to say – and try not to react emotionally or  defensively… just listen to their points of view.  Maybe probe by asking for more: what is their opinion, how do they feel, or ask for an example… so that you can read the bigger picture. Hold back on the impulse to jump in and fix their issues… you may find things are deeper than you think.
  • Empathise…  objectively reflect on why they may be saying what they are saying.  They may stressed, be tired, unwell, conflicted, angry, frustrated, apprehensive, worried or even frightened.  Are they being open their motives – they may have personal issues or values or reasoning that they think you may not care to hear.  Ask yourself what is driving their statements?  IF you can understand their point f view then you may decide it is valid or you may be able to provide reassurance or persuasion to address any underlying concerns.
  • Be clear and succinct… if you have an issue to raise then state it clearly and suggest how you think it might be best to proceed – so that you can get their input – again listening carefully to what they say and their reasoning.  Don’t be impatient to make your own statements – as this impatience may prevent you from “hearing what they are saying” and reading their non-verbal cues.
  • Observe your own cues… listen to your own speech and the non-verbal cues you are sending out.  If you project the wrong attitude or mood you may inhibit conversation. Do not appear distracted – look at them as they talk. 

Of course none of this means that you can’t be clear or assertive if that’s what the situation requires –  yet most people will accept decisions with grace if they feel they have been listened to.

It is great if you are someone with the ability to say the right thing, at the right time, to the right person to achieve your objectives – but first you must understand the issues that must be overcome  if you are to be successful.  So listen up… Mindfully.