Healthy Living in the North

Mindfulness at work – a positive mental health strategy

I remember the day clearly. It was a snowy Monday morning, and I arrived at work only to learn that the company was being re-structured and the project I was working was cancelled due to budget constraints. Our team was given two weeks’ notice to leave.

As the words fell on my ears, my heart began pounding against my ribcage and my eyes glazed over. As a single immigrant mother of two young boys, things were, shall we say, a bit uncertain.

Fortunately, over the years I had learned some good mindfulness and breathing techniques which I continued to practice daily. I knew that now was a good time to use them to manage my mind and emotions. I went back to my desk, sat down, closed my eyes, and took several deep breaths in and out-my awareness on my breath only.

Those few simple minutes of awareness and slowing down my breath, saved me from a whole range of emotions. Later, it also helped me to see the situation from a more positive perspective.

Mindfulness is a mental state

So what is mindfulness? Very simply, it’s a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, often accepting and acknowledging one’s bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Through mindfulness and breathing techniques, we can actually influence our emotions which often control us.

Breathing can help give an emotional lift.

Emotions and breathing are closely connected

Emma Seppala Ph.D., Science Director at Stanford University, and a workplace wellbeing researcher, explains:

 One of the reasons why breathing can change how we feel is that emotions and breathing are closely connected.”

In her article, Breathing: the little known secret to peace of mind, Seppala discusses a research study by Pierre Phillipot. The study showed, that different emotional states are associated with certain breathing patterns. During the study, when the participants felt anxious or afraid, they breathed more quickly and shallowly, and when they felt happy, they breathed slowly and fully.

Try this simple mindfulness technique

This technique is by far one of the simplest mindfulness practices I know. Try out it the next time you need to manage your mind and emotions.

  • At your desk, sit with your back straight, feet firmly on the ground and your hands on your knees.
  • Close your eyes and bring awareness to your breath. That’s all, just your breath.
  • Notice the pace of your breath.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, noticing how it fills your lungs and the temperature and texture as it passes through your nostrils.
  • Hold the breath for a second, before slowly breathing out through your nostrils. Again notice the sensations of the out-breath.
  • Continue to repeat this sequence, for 5 minutes initially.
  • When you feel comfortable, you can increase the length of time to 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

More on mindfulness

Jennifer Koh

About Jennifer Koh

Jennifer, an Organizational Development Consultant with Northern Health, is a Certified Professional Coach, yoga and meditation Instructor and an Equine Facilitated Learning & Wellness Coach. For the past 20 years she has been assisting organizations with change management, organizational culture, executive and team coaching, employee engagement, wellness and leadership development in South Africa, Asia and Canada. She has taught yoga, mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation with the non-profit Art of Living Foundation since 2010. Jennifer immigrated to Canada in 2006 and lived in Calgary for 10 years before moving to Prince George in 2016. She was born in Swaziland and spent most of her childhood and adult life in South Africa.

Share

Mental wellness inside and outside of mental illness

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, we want to explore the message of hope, resiliency, and understanding that there is wellness inside and outside of illness. Whether you live with a physical illness, a developmental illness, an injury, a mental illness or no labelled illness or disorder at all, your mental health can be appreciated and supported to flourish by recognizing the pieces that you can influence.

Living with a diagnosed mental illness or not, the reality is that every person on the planet will have moments, periods, or situations in which their mental health is or was, less than they would like it to be. Here are some examples of things to look out for – and things you can build skills to make changes to:

  • Trouble focusing attention.
  • Finding your thoughts stuck on one track – that just won’t stop running.
  • Struggling to tell what is real or not.
  • Feeling sad or vacant when good things are happening in your life.
  • Finding yourself isolating from friends or avoiding activities that usually bring you joy.
  • Sleep trouble – too much energy to get to sleep, or sleeping all night and not feeling rested.
  • Impulsively making decisions about money or activities that put you at risk.
  • Change in appetite or exercise patterns.
  • Feeling like you can’t make decisions when you usually make them with ease.

All of these things contribute to the overall experience of mental health, as do many other factors (jobs, finances, social networks, family breakdowns, life events, spirituality, etc.). The great thing about this list is that we can all learn to interrupt thinking patterns, practice better sleep hygiene, or adjust our schedules to promote balance in our days. We can invite new activities and people into our lives, we can change our environments and engage in our community, and we can seek help if we are struggling to make changes that can support growth. In doing these things, we can all see improvements to our mental wellness and in turn, satisfaction with our lives – dealing with challenges productively as they arise.

Have you checked up on your mental health?

Pieces of the puzzle, things to try:

  1. Have a look at your thinking patterns.
  2. Practice sleep hygiene.
  3. Recognize your strengths – try starting your day with writing out 3 things you are good at.
  4. Spend time with loved ones – build a social network.
  5. Volunteer.
  6. Exercise 30 minutes most days.
  7. Learn to manage and reduce stress.

Fast Facts:

  • Mental health, like physical health, has a range whether we live with a diagnosis or not.
  • We all have mental health and have days/periods where our thinking patterns, emotions, and behaviours are not at their best. We can learn skills to enhance our mental and emotional health.
  • Recovery is a journey, and there are many paths to get you there. Choose a route that makes sense for you.
  • Similar to physical health, mental health has elements we can influence to reach our wellness goals.

There is hope! Here are stories of recovery from around the world:

Looking to find some help? Head to your primary care home, local physician, walk in clinic, or check out:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

Share