"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Mindfulness can overcome technical stress at work

Editor's note: Doctors are burned out, too. read this Medscape Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2024: “We still have a lot of work to do”

March 8, 2024 – Texts. Emails. Video meeting. Texts to remind you of upcoming video meetings.

And so it goes, until what technologists and psychologists call the digital underbelly of technology – stress, anxiety, a sense of overload – wipes you out and endangers your mental and physical health.

However, prevent this burned out Feeling Is Experts say this is feasible by practicing mindfulness, an ancient approach that goals to develop into aware of your feelings within the moment without judgment or interpretation. For example, mindful respiratory focuses on being attentive to your breath as you breathe out and in. With a mindfulness approach, employees can use technology to be more productive, less stressed, and more on top of things.

Mindfulness as an alternative of digital trust?

In a brand new one studyResearchers examined participants' mindfulness and trust in technology to find out whether one or each buffered the downsides of the digital workplace. These dark sides include stress, overload, anxiety, fear of missing out (FOMO), and addiction, said Elizabeth Marsh, a doctoral student on the University of Nottingham in England and a mindfulness teacher who led the study.

At the start, Marsh briefly described mindfulness to participants, but didn't teach it. Many were already aware of the practice. Researchers surveyed 142 staff aged 18 to 54, 84% of whom were women, about their level of mindfulness within the digital workplace and their trust in technology.

They also asked about their levels of stress, overwork, anxiety, FOMO (e.g., working from home), and addictions. In addition to the survey, they conducted more in-depth interviews with 14 of the employees. Most worked 25 to 40 hours per week, with 25 staff logging greater than 40 hours. Only 5% reported not being stressed, with greater than 73% reporting mild or moderate stress and greater than 21% reporting extreme or very extreme stress.

Mindfulness is more practical than counting on technology to guard yourself from all of the dark unwanted side effects, she said. But “reliance on technology was particularly helpful when people were anxious and afraid of missing out.” [such as during remote work].''

She wouldn't go to this point as to say that mindfulness has triumphed over technical confidence. “But we can definitely say it’s really important,” she said.

They also found, as suspected, that the dark unwanted side effects of technology affected each physical and mental health, with digital stress and other dark unwanted side effects being linked to higher burnout and poorer health.

Expert perspectives

The growth of mindfulness within the Western world is attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, who created a mindfulness-based program on the University of Massachusetts in 1979. Since then, many U.S. corporations have implemented mindfulness programs within the workplace. But most give attention to after-the-fact coping mechanisms and trying to deal with the results of technology overload, said Michael Foster, founder and chairman of the Institute for Organizational Science and Mindfulness, which advocates for science-based mindfulness and mental health within the workplace.

The latest study, he said, “begins to elucidate the various mental and emotional challenges in the workplace so that they can be addressed through targeted neural training.” [with mindfulness.]”

According to Foster, who was not involved within the British study, “workplace well-being is entirely reactive and lags far behind the science.”

Companies should see this latest study as evidence that mindfulness training can move the organization toward a more proactive stance and provides leaders and employees the mental and emotional skills to “navigate the digital workplace more effectively and successfully.”

Workplace mindfulness programs can reduce healthcare costs and increase productivity binary, in keeping with Foster's organization.

Mindfulness in motion

Participants within the British study shared a few of their mindfulness techniques during interviews. One quoted that when work becomes overwhelming, take a couple of deep breaths and pause before continuing.

Another said it's necessary to envision in with yourself throughout the workday and really ask yourself, “Am I okay mentally?” “How am I feeling physically?”

Others decided they needed more boundaries around technology to cut back time spent working from home. Others temporarily turned off notifications or unplugged them within the evening.

Google's mindfulness guru

The latest research echoes previous findings concerning the value of mindfulness, said Mirabai Bush, mindfulness expert and senior scientist at Center for contemplative spirit in society, a worldwide community committed to contemplative practices similar to mindfulness. What's unique concerning the current study, she said, is that it connects mindfulness to the concept of digital trust and the finding that mindfulness protects against further unwanted side effects of technology.

This, she said, “increases his potential and importance in the workplace. Nobody seems to know what to do with this digital stress.”

In 2007, Bush co-developed Google's mindfulness program Search within yourself. It has grown into an independent educational institute that teaches mindfulness to government employees and nonprofit organizations. While launching at Google, Bush taught mindfulness to young engineers who, as she put it, had spent most of their working lives sitting in front of screens with little face-to-face interaction. Convincing engineers to speak about feelings and vent was a challenge but doable, she found.

In the primary course, she said, “We talked about mindful emails.” This includes: “Write the email down. Take three breaths. Look again. Imagine how the person who was supposed to receive it will feel emotionally and intelligently.” Ask: Is it the unsuitable message?

An engineer needed to steer a employee to do something and aimed for a tone that was questioning but not demanding. He wrote an email fastidiously, rewrote it over and another time, after which reported: “I did something radical. I picked up the phone.” He realized that the tone of an email would make his request sound demanding, regardless of how persistently he paraphrased it.

Mindfulness communities

Four years ago, Megan Whitney founded a mindfulness community at feed America, a nationwide network of food banks, pantries and native meal programs. Employees at 200 food banks can access the net program, said Whitney, a senior manager on the organization who can also be certified in teaching mindfulness. An exercise called “Minutes to Arrive” invites everyone to set a timer for one minute before a gathering and easily breathe with their eyes open or closed.

“Working in food banks is very stressful,” Whitney said. One user told her: “In the non-profit world you may feel lonely. People don't understand what I do as a food banker.” The community helps her feel connected, she said.

Other mindfulness research

“Practicing mindfulness can help digital users become more aware of their habitual and subconscious reactions to digital interaction – for example, doom scrolling, task switching, and habitual phone calls – and take decisive action to protect their well-being,” he told David Harley, PhD, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom, who has written a book based on his research on the use of mindfulness in a digital world.

However, he takes issue with a measure used in the new study that looked at “trait mindfulness,” which he says suggests that mindfulness must be a trait the person already possesses. Instead of looking for people to practice mindfulness, employers should provide the training, he said.

Do-it-yourself mindfulness in the workplace

Employees in companies without formal mindfulness programs can learn and practice them themselves. Here are some suggestions from the experts:

  • Anchor yourself in your immediate physical experience, Harley said. “Pay attention to how your body feels while participating in digital interactions.”
  • Reducing your digital distractions can help. “Close all devices, windows and apps except the one you are currently working with and turn off all notifications,” Harley said.
  • “Come back to your breath,” Harley said, explaining that there is value in being aware of your breathing, even if just for a moment.
  • Put the phone on silent or reject notifications for the various apps, Marsh suggested.
  • Learning basic mindfulness is straightforward, Bush said. “Sit down, close your eyes, pay attention to your breathing.” Even though self-teaching is possible, “it's good to learn from a teacher in the beginning.” Many online resources guide users through the practice Mindfulness.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council-Midlands Graduate School.