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Managing your stress

'Everyone has their own form of mindfulness, whether it's running, cooking or dancing'
- Lucy Richards, Smiling Mind

Top tips

  • Identify stress trigger points
  • Set aside time to be mindful
  • Practice meditation daily online or via an app

What is mindfulness?

From the sole trader who can't sleep at night to the small business owner finding it hard to concentrate during the day, work-related stress manifests in many ways. But can setting aside a few minutes of quiet time a day combat this?

An increasing body of experts believe that we can by practicing mindfulness. A simple form of meditation, mindfulness can help lower stress, improve memory, boost the immune system and make it easier to fall asleep. It doesn't involve chanting or contorting into a yoga pose. It's about slowing down and becoming aware of your mind and body and its connection.

"Everyone has their own form of mindfulness, whether it's running, cooking or dancing," says Lucy Richards, general manager of Smiling Mind, a non-profit group based in Victoria that offers a free program built around this modern meditation.

How it works

Smiling Mind's program is available through its website or can be accessed via an Apple or android app. It's a series of verbally guided meditations that are simple to follow and can be done at any time of the day when there's a few minutes to spare.

"The idea is that you don't have to have any experience, they're guided practices," says Lucy. The introductory meditation lasts five minutes. A calm male voice talks through the process of breathing while being aware of various parts of the body, working up from the toes to the neck and face. It's about letting everything go and settling into the moment.

The aim is to listen to a 10-step course that's ideally done for a few minutes every day for 10 days. From there, users often do several sessions a week. Smiling Mind offers a range of programs, from a personal one to a corporate app that can be supplemented with face-to-face workshops in the office. "The effects are fairly immediate and the more you do it the more sustained and long term they become," says Lucy.

Confidence booster

Ed Morgan started using the program more than a year ago while working as a service delivery manager at IBM. “I’ve always been interested in personal development and I was a little bit stressed at work,” he says.

Ed followed a five-week program that involved logging on three times a week, ranging from three-minute “brain breaks” to 10- to 15-minute guided sessions. After a week, he started to see results. “I felt a lot calmer at work and didn’t react to situations as I would have in the past.”

Inspired, Ed applied for––and received––a World of Difference grant. The Vodaphone Foundation initiative funds a few people a year to work for the charity of their choice. He started working at Smiling Mind in the middle of 2014 as a program development manager.

Ed now practices mindfulness in the morning via the Smiling Mind corporate app for 10 to 15 minutes around three times a week. “We’re a really small team and mindfulness has really helped manage my workload,” he says. “I can focus on one task at a time.”

Who can do it?

Large companies like IBM have signed on to Smiling Mind's program as well as smaller accounting firms. The corporate meditation is outcome driven, says Lucy, centred on calm, clarity and connection. "It's an investment in time to take three, five, 10 minutes to take care of yourself," she says. "After it you're so much clearer in your priorities and much more productive."

Benefits of mindfulness

By shutting down the system for a few minutes, turning off the primal "fight or flight" response, research has shown that meditation can:

  • reduce stress by activating a relaxation response
  • decrease pain by at least 33 per cent in some patients
  • sharpen attention in the workplace within five days of practicing
  • change the pathways in the brain that are connected to happiness, allowing for a greater sense happiness levels and increased emotional resilience.

The result

Smiling Mind is also hoping to teach young people mindfulness tools to help bolster resilience and reduce mental health issues. In late 2014, Smiling Mind received funding from the The Public Sector Innovation Fund Technology Innovation Fund to trial its online and app-based mindfulness education program in a group of Victorian schools. Find out more about Smiling Mind.