Thursday 24 November 2016

Why going for a walk can help you stay happy not SAD

It’s that time of year again… The clocks have gone back and there’s a definite nip in the air. Some people embrace the winter months, while for others it's a difficult time of year. A time where hibernation seems like an attractive prospect and even the simplest of daily tasks become a chore.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an illness caused by a lack of natural sunlight. It can leave people feeling lethargic and suffering from noticeable changes in mood. Approximately 20% of people in the UK experience some SAD symptoms, while another 8% suffer more seriously to the point that it affects their daily lives. More about the symptoms of SAD >

There are two proven ways of relieving the symptoms associated with the change in the seasons. The first is natural light and the second is exercise. What could be better than a lunchtime walk to kill two birds with one stone?

A recent study by the University of Birmingham looked at the effects of a daily walk on mood and general wellbeing. They drafted volunteers and asked them to walk for 30 minutes during their usual lunch hour, three times a week. The aim of the walk was to encourage the body to release the serotonin and endorphins that act as our natural mood enhancers and energy boosters. Reports were completed by participants, twice-daily and by the end of the study period it was found that walking improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work.

You can find out more about the benefits of a lunchtime walk – and the study – in this New York Times article.

There are loads of reasons (excuses?) to forget about walking once you’re actually at work, but all it takes is a few simple tweaks to your daily routine to really reap the health benefits.

The mental and physical benefits of taking a break at lunchtime are well documented – you’ll find out more about that in our previous blog post about stress busting techniques – even if you're only walking for 15 minutes at a time, it all helps.

If you don’t tend to take lunch and we can’t persuade you of the benefits of doing so, it’s time to build your walks into your work time. Schedule space in your diary to go through your emails – on the move – or maybe suggest a walking meeting with your colleagues?

And if the winter months are leaving you feeling a little blue, it should be even more of a priority for you. To alleviate any SAD symptoms, we recommend that you:

  • Try to walk for 30 minutes exercise three days a week – more if you can manage it
  • Walk at a steady speed that will get your heart and lungs working harder
  • Keep to open areas if you can to maximise the natural sunlight getting to your body.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Mindfulness and work - how practising mindfulness techniques can benefit you at work

Workers in the UK are putting in more hours at work than ever before – according to the Trade Union Congress  – are you one of them?

Absenteeism and workplace stress are also on the rise and it’s unlikely that this trend is going to buck anytime soon. This is why employers and employees alike are looking for ways to make each working day easier to manage. Today, mindfulness practices are not confined to yoga classes and retreats. Many businesses are acknowledging the role that these skills can play in improving morale and motivation, not to mention better team effectiveness and an increased ability for leaders to make sound decisions.

An article in Personnel Today looked at the ways in which businesses – like GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG and the Home Office - were maximising the benefits that mindfulness practice can have in the workplace. Take Transport for London, for example, who were reported to have seen a massive fall in the number of days employees were off sick since they introduced mindfulness practices to the workplace.

Mindfulness is about training the mind to be present, which helps us think about things differently. We are all creatures of habit and our working day is defined by a range of routines, tasks and practices. It doesn’t take much for these routines to change and this can leave us feeling unbalanced. Mindfulness helps us to regain our equilibrium and stay focussed on our work.

The great thing about mindfulness practice in the workplace is that it doesn’t take much time. A few tweaks to our daily schedule and we can retrain our brain to approach stressful situations differently.

As a start, the following will help:

Take a break

Some people think that taking a lunchbreak, or a coffee break, is an act of weakness – taking your eye off the ball. On the contrary. Even a short 5-10 minute break will improve your concentration levels and boost your creativity. Lunchbreaks, if you can make the time, can really set you up for the afternoon and are an easy way to make sure mindfulness features in your working day.

The Harvard Medical School published some great tips on mindful eating practices to help you maximise the benefits. They include advice such as taking time to reflect before starting to eat, not eating on the move and making sure you chew each mouthful. You can read more about mindful eating here >

Take some exercise

Exercise is a natural grounder – a way of clearing our mind and releasing the feel good endorphins that make us feel as though anything is possible. However, often the thought of taking exercise during work time seems anything but possible. Even a quick walk around the block or taking a few flights of stairs, rather than the lift, will be all it takes to clear your mind and leave you focussed and more able to handle your daily to-do list.

Mindful exercise is about focussing on your activity, as you do it, not getting distracted or zoning out. If you’re walking: think about how the road feels below your feet, think about the speed at which you are travelling and the way that the road is designed to take you to your destination. It really is that simple.

Take a moment to think

Have you ever noticed that we do things without really thinking about them? Your routines when you get to work and switch on your equipment, the unconscious walk to the printer, the way you drink your cuppa with papers in hand, as you review your work…

Multitasking is a necessary skill, but choose any one these tasks each day and really think about what you are doing. Turn your chair around and drink your tea away from your desk – think about how it tastes, how warm the cup feels in your hand – focus only on your beverage and how good it makes you feel. Once you have finished your drink, turn your chair back around and carry on with your work.

Take time to try something new

In the workplace, make a conscious effort to break away from your routines and habits. Sit in a different seat in meetings, write with a different pen, wear different shoes, move your desk around. Just the very fact that your brain has to adjust to do something differently will heighten your senses and leave you more able to contribute to the task in hand.

Mindfulness in the workplace will benefit everyone but if you find yourself regularly drifting away or getting irritable with your team mates, you may want to think about how to build mindfulness into your working day, sooner rather than later!

Listen to our podcast in which Counselling Psychologist Stephanie Gooding discusses mindfulness  practices and the benefits for our wellbeing.