To help us raise awareness of the importance of good health at work and at home, Simon Michaels from Mindful Work has written a guest blog on how mindfulness can help relieve stress and anxiety.

LawCare’s survey of lawyers revealed that more than 50% of the profession felt stressed, and that 19% were suffering from clinical depression. In 2013, the Law Society interviewed 2,226 solicitors about stress at work and, shockingly, more than 95%  said their stress was extreme or severe.

And, if solicitors are under pressure, other colleagues around them are also affected.

It’s a sad fact that one in four of us will suffer mental health problems. Over 30% of short term and 50% of long term sickness is due to anxiety, depression and related problems – the biggest single cause of illness.

The charity Mind says there is a culture of fear and silence regarding mental health at work. So, it was refreshing to talk with Paul Clayton, Head of HR Consultancy for Capital People, whose approach was to meet this issue head on, recognising that happy staff are productive staff.

Mindfulness is about fine-tuning your awareness of present moment experience. With this skill, we can recognise stress arising at its earliest stage, and give ourselves a split second in which we have choice – to react in the old, automatic, habitual way, or to get perspective, stay calm and clear headed, and act in accordance with our core values.

Mindfulness training enables us to stay present without distraction, and to keep a calm and clear head when things get difficult. With on-going practice, the overall effect is to keep us more emotionally intelligent, more relaxed, happier, and more productive.

Mindfulness is highly effective at reducing stress at work. Major companies, such as Google, Transport for London, and even governments in Westminster and Cardiff are now taking it seriously. There have been reports of up to 70% reduction in mental health illness, and up to 60% productivity improvements.

But, the standard mindfulness course presents a challenge to busy people. Where do you find the time to sit quietly for 40 minutes every day?

 So, between Paul and myself, we planned to pilot a new model of mindfulness training that I have been developing. It’s called Simply Being Present, and is based on short exercises, repeated frequently. The principle is to slowly change habits of reaction to stressful events, allowing a split second of clarity to gain perspective and make more measured responses. 

The course begins with an introduction to three core practices – breathing, body scan, and mindful walking. To start with the exercises last three minutes, but then shorten to ten seconds or less. People learn how to use these techniques on the spot, as stressful events arise, and as part of everyday activities. There’s a suggestion for a morning or evening practice of ten minutes, with downloadable mp3s for guidance.  

Subsequent modules include:

•developing emotional intelligence

 •re-framing difficulties

 •applying the powerful practices of kindness and gratitude

•communicating mindfully in emails and meetings with colleagues and clients 

•helping clarify values and motivation.  

The pilot is now near completion. While we will almost certainly make changes next time around, there have already been positive reports from the 13 delegates on the course. Here’s what a few people have said:

‘I practice breathing and body scanning on various trigger events. For example, an e-mail came in yesterday afternoon that was difficult. I paused, practiced, cleared my mind, and then dealt with it.'

'Following some recent anxiety attacks, I had been struggling to find any peace in my mind. The course has been really helpful.' 

'Mindfulness has helped me remain focused during my work day, reminding me to take a quick breather between tasks so I can start the next piece of work with a clear head and renewed enthusiasm.’