Research has found that meditation has both physical and psychological health benefits, with many people using it primarily to reduce stress and anxiety.
It’s many health benefits have led to meditation growing in popularity as a component of workplace health programs, with a focus on stress reduction and mental wellbeing for employees.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a mind and body practice, focussing on the interactions between the brain, mind, body and behaviour.
While there are different types of meditation, most involve the following four elements:
- A quiet location with few distractions
- A comfortable posture
- A focus of attention
- An open attitude
Many different techniques exist, evolving from different religions, philosophies, perspectives and situations, with all five major world religions involving some version of meditation.
Meditation can include concentrating on breathing, grounding and mindfulness, emptying the mind, focussing attention on an object, movement like yoga or tai chi, or repeating a word or phrase.
What are the health benefits?
The potential health benefits of meditation are many, with varying levels of evidence supporting it for the treatment of pain, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, stopping smoking and inflammation.
Evidence supporting the benefits of meditation in reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression are particularly strong, with many studies dedicated to understanding its impact.
One meditation practice that has been increasingly studied and applied in the treatment of mental illness in recent decades is a secularised version of Buddhist mindfulness practices, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts.
The eight-week group program that Kabat-Zinn pioneered in 1979, known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), uses multiple meditation techniques, including hatha yoga, breath-focussed attention, body scan-based attention, sensory attention, walking and eating meditation, and present moment awareness.
The MBSR program is widely used to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in patients, with various studies demonstrating its ability to reduce chronic emotional reactivity and rumination, modify distorted patterns of thinking about the self, increase immune system function and increase behavioural self-regulation.
Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness program has also been used in conjunction with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychological treatment for a range of mental and emotional health issues.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) incorporates elements of both MBSR and CBT, focussing on helping patients to adopt a new way of relating to their thoughts and feelings.
Studies have found MBCT to be effective as a relapse-prevention method in recurrent depression, as well as in the treatment of active depression.
Mindfulness-based treatments, including MBSR and MBCT, have also been shown to be effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
Mindfulness in the workplace:
Meditation as a component of employee health and wellbeing programs is growing in popularity, with major companies, such as IBM and NAB, introducing mindfulness in their workplaces.
Workplace health programs have an almost 600% return on investment (ROI) due to improvements in absenteeism, staff turnover, creativity, innovation and productivity.
In fact, healthy employees are three times more productive than their unhealthy counterparts and take nine times less sick days, while workplace mental health investment alone has an average ROI of $2.30 for every $1 invested.
As a workplace health initiative, meditation can have a significant impact on employee wellbeing.
A 2018 study on the effect of MBSR on employees’ mental health identified it as helpful in improving workers’ psychological functioning by reducing emotional exhaustion, stress, psychological distress, depression, anxiety and occupational stress.
It also led to improvements in mindfulness, personal accomplishment, occupational self-compassion, quality of sleep and relaxation.
Different mindfulness interventions could also be used to target and improve different employee functions, such as decision-making, productivity, resilience, interpersonal communication, organisational relationships and self-care.
Additionally, workplace mindfulness that encourages employees to focus on one task at a time, as opposed to multi-tasking, can lead to improvements in productivity and the quality of work.
If you’re a business looking to introduce mindfulness in your workplace, organisations, such as Smiling Mind, can help you get started by offering training, tools and analytics.