Meditation and Corporate Wellbeing
For those who are looking to include our secular training as part of a corporate wellbeing programme, we have listed below some of the benefits you and your employees can expect to see.
These benefits are common to all forms of meditation and to all subjects, regardless of their level of experience.
People who meditate at least fifteen minutes a day, will benefit from:
Summary of a few studies done on secular concentration practices
Journal of Academic and Business Ethics
In a researched article, Mason Fries makes the argument for the incorporation of secular concentration practices into company health and wellbeing programs to manage employees’ stress.[iii]
Why management should include meditation in wellness programs
He says, “Many organizations have wellness programs providing workshops and information for drug/alcohol problems, smoking cessation, weight loss, etc. However, more emphasis must be placed on how the mind and our thoughts contribute to our discomfort and stress... By using well established principles and techniques of mindfulness, based upon Eastern philosophy and Western psychology, employees and managers can interrupt their self- defeating and irrational thoughts and become more focused on their job responsibilities. They will become better able to cope and manage the bombardment of information, accept change in a more realistic and healthy manner, and realize greater fulfillment in both their professional and personal lives.”
Stress is a fact of life
He continues, "Stress is not something to be avoided as it is a part of life and human existence...Stress allows us to be at our best and the body needs to react appropriately when experiencing a physical threat in order to survive. An acute experience of a stressful situation is not harmful. It is the chronic or long-term stress response that can be dangerous to one's health. Unfortunately, many people have learned to accept chronic stress and have attempted to cope with it to the best of their abilities. They have resigned themselves to the fact that overwhelmind stress is just an undesirable part of life."
The health risks of prolonged stress
“Under stress, the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is released into circulation... ACTH reaches the adrenal cortex on the kidneys where it stimulates endocrine cells to secrete the steroid hormone cortisol. Cortisol is beneficial to the body when real danger is present, however, under prolonged stress, the results can be devastating to one’s physical and mental health. One of the best-known correlations between prolonged stress and health is that found with certain cardiovascular diseases including both high blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. Subsequently, these factors increase the probability of a heart attack or stroke. In addition, with an increase in the body’s cortisol level, the immune system is suppressed which adds to chronic illness and in many cases depression.”
Stress could become the next public health crisis
The latest Stress in America survey from the American Psychological Association reports that its latest findings “raise red flags about the long-term impact that chronic stress could have on our physical and emotional health and the health of our families.”
“‘America is at a critical crossroads when it comes to stress and our health,’ said psychologist Norman B. Anderson, PhD, APA’s chief executive officer and executive vice president. ‘Year after year nearly three-quarters of Americans say they experience stress at levels that exceed what they define as healthy, putting themselves at risk for developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and depression. Stress is hurting our physical and emotional health and contributing to some of the leading causes of death in this country. People are also saying they have difficulty implementing the changes they know will decrease their stress and improve their health. Yet, our health care system is not adequately addressing this issue or providing the behavioral health treatments that can help Americans. All of us, including the medical community, need to take stress seriously since stress could easily become our next public health crisis.’”[iv]
In a 1997 American Psychological Association survey, seventy-nine percent of people agreed that “Stress is a fact of life.” One third of the people reported experiencing extreme levels of stress, and nearly 17% reported that they experienced their highest level of stress 15 or more days per month. In addition, 48% of Americans believed that their stress had increased over the past five years and nearly half reported that stress had a negative impact on their emotional well-being (49 %) and physical health (46 %). Physical symptoms resulting from stress, such as fatigue, headache, change in appetite and dizziness affected 77% of those surveyed. Psychological symptoms, such as irritability or anger, nervousness, and feeling tearful affected 73% of those surveyed. Nearly half of Americans lie awake at night, and 43% either over- or under-eat due to stress. The 2010 APA Stress in America survey finds strong links between stress and obesity.[v]
Reducing negative impacts of stress in the workplace
Stress reduction may be approached through both external factors (‘stressors’ such as financial and physical difficulty), and internal factors (such as a person’s attitude toward or perception of those stressors). Mason Fries says, “Traditionally, management has only tended to concentrate on external methods to lessen stress such as time management training, redesigning of jobs, increased employee involvement, social support networks, and improved organizational communication in order to produce more satisfied and productive employees.” He points out that while perceptive companies have an increased awareness of their employees’ needs, and are working to meet those needs through innovative wellness programs, “these programs also emphasize the external causes of stress as they generally focus on the employee’s behavior. Counseling or information usually centers on behavior problems such as smoking cessation, weight loss, substance abuse, and physical fitness. These changes are all beneficial; however, they do not always produce the intended result.”
Fries says that, “Organizations must also give attention to the internal factors that cause stress; the mind itself and individual perceptions of the world. The employee’s perception of the work environment is usually not considered. Therefore, mindfulness training may allow for reductions in stress even when changes in the organizational environment are impossible or not practical.”
Benefits of mindfulness
Fries concludes with some of the benefits of training the mind in secular concentration, “Being present and focused is critical to reduce stress, improve relationships, and to increase our ability to make competent and wise decisions. A preoccupation with the past often leads to regrets and depression while concerns about the future only lead to worries and anxiety. With mindfulness, one can become aware of how and why one reacts to events or situations instead of responding impulsively due to past conditioning. With mindfulness, one can better evaluate the situation and/or problem solve with full awareness. Mindfulness can guide one’s actions and responses. One can control the situation rather than have it control you.”
To read more from Mason Fries’s article, visit: www.aabri.com/manuscripts/08124.pdf
Cultivating Emotional Balance Project
The Cultivating Emotional Balance Project arose from a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and behavioural scientists. The project was formed to answer the question whether or not secularised Buddhist practices would be helpful to Westerners in dealing with “destructive” emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety and hostility. The clinical trial included training in basic mindful awareness and understanding of emotion in self and others, and training in empathy and compassion.
Subjectively reported results
The project says, "Participants reported a reduction in negative mood that they believe resulted from an increase in their ability to maintain a calm quality even in the face of adversity. They also reported an increase in awareness of their emotions, their thoughts, and their reactions to others that allowed them to respond in unique and constructive ways. Many participants reported an ability to interact with others in a more compassionate and forgiving way."
Evaluation procedure results
"Evaluation procedure results supported the participants’ reports. Participants showed a highly significant decrease in depression, anxiety and hostility. In addition, participants reported a significant increase in affection for others and demonstrated a significant improvement in their ability to detect subtle forms of emotional expression on the face." The training also “appeared to protect [participants] from the negative psychological and physiological effects of stress.”[i]
To read more about this study, visit www.cultivatingemotionalbalance.org.
A Fetzer Institute funded study found that participants who trained their minds in compassion experienced enhanced empathy, agreeableness, openness to new experience, conscientiousness, and well-being, as well as increased ability to perform tasks which required sustained attention. They experienced a decrease in negative behaviors such as avoidance, general anxiety and neuroticism, and their difficulties in regulating emotions.[ii]
To read more about this study, visit: www.fetzer.org/research/research-detail/?&resource_id=2191
The benefits of training the mind aren’t restricted an elite few. They aren’t something available only to those with a spiritual practice. Mind training means working with our own mind, our own thoughts and emotions. As such, nothing could be more every day and familiar. We don’t have to accept a foreign ideology, go anywhere, or do anything strange. We simply live our lives, but more fully, in the present.
Through training our minds, we become aware of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Then we can begin to work on reducing our negative emotions and behaviours—such as anxiety or aggression—and focus on cultivating positive emotions and behaviours—such as empathy, forgiveness, and creativity. The benefits of secular meditation spread to all aspects of life. At work, we can benefit from better focus and alertness and increased creativity. At home, we benefit from increased ability to manage destructive emotions and behaviours, and a greater ability to find new solutions to recalcitrant problems. Training the mind reduces stress, and improves our health. To gain all these benefits, we don’t have to buy anything, we don’t need to gain anything. The tool we will use is always with us, and it’s free—our own mind.