Patrick Phillips, Postgraduate Career Development & Alumni Officer with the Careers Team at Trinity Business School, discusses in this blog piece how meditation can play a significant role in helping you to get more from your career.
Patrick Phillips, Postgraduate Career Development & Alumni Officer
"Prior to joining Trinity Business School I worked as a career counsellor in the not-for-profit sector. I helped people who were unemployed to get back to work, and I witnessed first-hand how stressful unemployment was for my clients. A lot of my work in the not-for-profit sector and now in Trinity Business School revolves around supporting people in staying motivated and positive while job hunting. In this blog I would like to discuss the role that mindfulness/meditation can play in coping with the challenges of job hunting and in navigating our career generally.
Meditation or mindfulness has become a multibillion-dollar industry. It is promoted by employers globally, and many workplaces have mindfulness/meditation trainers to help reduce stress and increase productivity among employees.
I want to give an honest appraisal of a technique that is often oversold which I think does a disservice to the practice. Dr Jason Linder argues that meditation is promoted in the west as the cure for all suffering, and our capitalist system feeds into this concept of meditation. Furthermore, a meta-analysis conducted by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) determined that the impact of mindfulness-based training programmes had only a moderate impact on reducing symptoms of anxiety, which is entirely consistent with my own experience.
While this last point might seem like an underwhelming argument for taking on the practice of mindfulness daily, I would argue that it is important to see this in the correct context. Anything that can provide a moderate reduction in work related stress deserves your attention.
I started meditating in 2009 to improve my mental health at work, and over a decade later and I am still practicing it regularly. There have been a few gaps in that time, but I always came back to it. I developed an interest in stress in the workplace and subsequently published research that explored emotional intelligence in workplace conflict, and as a method for managing stress when a person finds themselves unemployed.
Stress occurs when the amygdala, which is a small structure at the base of our brain, activates and releases chemicals into our body which is termed the flight, fight or freeze response. Stress is a low-grade activation of this system and can persist for long periods of time resulting in serious implications for our mental and physical health. The fight/flight/freeze system is only intended to be deployed on rare occurrences when there is a serious and immediate threat.
In 2011 Dr. Sara Lazar at Harvard determined that the amygdala in test subjects reduced in size after an 8 week course in meditation, this meant that the participants were becoming less dependent on the fight/flight/freeze response and were better able to engage the decision making centres of the brain thereby reducing stress levels. Dr. Michael Mrazek and a team of researchers conducted a study which indicated that just 2 weeks of mindfulness training was enough to improve participants cognitive performance and reduce mind wandering.
Miller et al (1995) demonstrated that test subjects displayed lower levels of anxiety a full 3 years after taking an initial 8-week training course in mindfulness. So, we have evidence that meditation can have immediate benefits and it can continue to do so over large periods of time. Therefore, meditation has the capacity to be an effective method for countering the stress we experience at work.
Practice Makes Perfect
In my own experience, when I practice regularly I find life more manageable, simple as that. I have not experienced nirvana nor had any dramatic revelations, but I seem to cope better over the course of a given day. I don’t necessarily feel happier, but I have a sense of being more settled in myself, and I don’t ruminate as much when things in work go wrong. These reasons are enough to justify 20 minutes of practice in the morning. When I start to feel my motivation for the practice starting to fade, I will sign up for a short course which usually gets me motivated again.
Change your Mindset and Approach
Mindfulness is certainly not a panacea, especially when we might only have 15 or 20 minutes in the morning to practice. However, when it is combined with other lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep it can play a significant role in helping you to get more from your career.