New thinking

Need to de-stress?

Mindfulness can help you deal with life’s pressures. Just taking five minutes out of your day can make a difference.

Being mindful involves training your mind to focus on what you are doing, and the space around you, so that you are fully aware of the present. This can help you feel calm and improve your mental state.

Many people are embracing mindful techniques to relieve day-to-day stress. Businesses are also coming on board, incorporating mindfulness into their employee wellbeing programmes.

Relieve the pressure

Alice Grey Harrison, Director of Communications at US accounting firm DHG, says “taking just a few minutes to practice mindfulness between tasks can sometimes be all that’s needed to de-stress”.

Scott Yandle, Senior Assurance Manager at DHG’s Greenville office, is among the converts.  He says learning how to be aware of the present moment has helped him “ratchet down the stress” when it builds and builds.

Describing his story in an illuminating DHG podcast, Scott admits he used to spend “99% of the day doing stuff”, with no time for reflection. Now, he takes time out at regular intervals to de-stress using mindfulness techniques.

Mindfulness is a quality every human possesses. The secret lies in learning how to access it by taking short breaks to focus on the moment. This is not always easy when we are trying to deal with day-to-day pressures of the pandemic, work, family or other causes of stress.

“If you can unplug for a second, the stress stops building and it actually goes down because you can take yourself out of a stressful situation and then think for a second, ‘alright, how do I get myself out of it?’ or ‘I understand and here’s how I’m going to deal with it’. It just gives you some time to unplug. I found that’s really helped me be more positive, and it’s just not as crazy. It really has helped with the stress level for me,” Scott says.

Explaining how he incorporates mindfulness at work, he adds: “I have actually put something on my calendar every day an hour after lunch to try to reflect. I don’t get an hour every day, but it makes me think when it comes to my phone or [being] on my computer, ‘Hey, take some time for yourself real quick. Meditate. Think. Read a book for a second. Do whatever. Call your kids. Whatever you want to do, but take some time for yourself to just pull out of the fire for a second and then you can plug back in.”

Time to think

DHG recently began offering the mindfulness app called Headspace to employees as part of its wellness programme. “The great thing about the app is it guides you step-by-step, so you’re not just sitting there in silence. You’re actually thinking while being silent. I think that’s what really has helped me manage stress,” Scott says.

One of the challenges of encouraging mindfulness at work is the commonly held notion that it is only for a certain type of person. Alice Grey admits she “almost fell out of my chair” when Scott said one of the keys to his success is meditation. “I’m not sure why I was shocked, but anytime I see Scott, he’s always positive. He’s very successful. He’s calm. But he doesn’t look like a meditation type person.”

Debunking a misconception about how mindfulness is practiced, Scott says you don’t have to close your eyes and sit on the floor in the traditional style. “You can just do it anywhere, which I love.” He advises anyone looking to practise mindfulness to “stick with it” even if it seems boring or uncomfortable at first, adding, “once you start seeing the benefits of it, you’ll be hooked”.

Managing stress at work

In the UK, the accounting firm Mazars has seen a dramatic improvement in employee wellbeing through mindfulness.

The firm commissioned psychologist Chris Finn, of Poole Mindfulness, to deliver an introduction to mindfulness at work for 40 staff just as the pandemic hit. It was a time many employees had to start working from home for the first time.

The programme focused on managing the distractions at home, the boundaries of home/work life, managing change and stress, and increasing resilience during the pandemic. The training was so successful it was opened up to 2,000 staff nationwide, with dramatic results:

  • 97% of people felt more calm
  • 97% felt more focused, and less distracted
  • 93% said they were less stressed
  • 93% reported being more engaged with their work

Mazars subsequently commissioned Chris to help onboard new interns with mindfulness sessions. Employees who took part in the training said it was “invaluable” and “truly inspiring”.

Mindfulness is helping people from all walks of life relieve every day pressures. If you have moments of high stress or anxiety, or you feel under pressure, why not give it a go this year? It could change your life.

Find out more

If you would like to try out mindfulness techniques for yourself, it’s worth considering online help. The University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre, a charitable organisation aiming to reduce suffering and improve wellbeing through mindfulness, offers free online sessions for newbies and those looking to practise with a group on a regular basis.

There are a large range of useful apps now available, many with free trials, including Headspace, Calm and InsightTimer. The Mindful organisation provides a useful guide to five leading apps.

Tom Brichieri-Colombi, Partner, Infrastructure and Energy at Mazars, has written an insightful blog sharing his personal experience of stress in the workplace and the importance of taking care of our mental health: https://blogs.mazars.com/mazars-uk-blog/2018/10/10/feeling-stressed/

This is an updated version of an article I originally wrote for my client Praxity Global Alliance, the world’s largest alliance of independent accounting and consulting firms.