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How to Make the Workplace a Happy Place

8 July 2021

It’s possible to structurally rewire your brain for positive change in as short a time as eight weeks, certified MBSR/MBCT mindfulness practitioner Sally Cumming says.

Speaking at a networking event Programmed organised for group business administrators in the education sector, Cumming shared practical tools for self-care, restful sleep and self-regulation.

In her presentation, Cumming addresses two broad issues that people often struggle with in their daily lives – how to be present, and how to rewire the brain’s negativity bias. With the average employee spending over 80,000 hours at work over a lifetime, and 25% of employees taking time off work every year for stress-related reasons, maintaining positive mental health both in and out of the workplace is essential.

An optimum state to be in throughout the workday is to be calm, not tired, and alert, but not anxious, according to Cumming. But that’s often not the case. Cumming said it’s important to be aware of our friends and colleagues around us and to ask them if they’re okay – they could either be in a state of hyperarousal (stressed and anxious) or hypoarousal (depressed and foggy). For leaders in particular, it’s important to be open and approachable.

To combat the fact that we’re on autopilot 47% of the time, Cumming advises people to be aware of where their thoughts are going during the day.

Mindfulness and meditation are buzzwords often thrown around, but Cumming references research that shows eight weeks of mindfulness meditation can make our prefrontal cortex thicker and stronger, allowing us to better perform and focus our attention. Cumming refers to mindfulness meditation as “a bicep curl for the brain, a mental rep, and exercise for the mind”. Physical exercise is often said to be crucial to one’s well-being, but mental fitness is equally as important.

“The mind that jumps forward a lot is related to stress and anxiety, and the mind that goes back into the past can also be linked to depression…If you know where you’re focusing your attention, you’re activating your prefrontal cortex,” Cumming says, while also discussing strategies for restful sleep.

Touching on the negativity bias in our brain, Cumming says:

“Our mind is like Velcro for negative and Teflon for positive. The negative experiences stick and the positive experiences fall away.”

Cumming says there are two safeguards against this – displaying gratitude and kindness. She discusses a few practical exercises and how long it can take for new pathways to be cemented in the brain.

“Life isn’t a train ride, it’s a sailboat and our boat is being swept in every single direction. Learning how to use your mind in a way that’s beneficial is like learning how to steer the boat.”

Click here to access Sally Cumming’s presentation that contains tools and tips on how to quiet an active mind, practical exercises to help you access clarity and focus, and how to support the people around you who may be struggling with dips in their mental health.

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