Forty hours a week, 48 weeks a year for 50 years of our life. Work is undoubtedly an integral part of life in the modern world. It’s where friendships are made, relationships blossom and helps to define the purpose for many of our lives. While it can be rewarding, for many throughout the world it can also be incredibly stressful.
A recent survey by the mental health charity Mind found that one in six people are currently suffering from depression, stress and anxiety as a result of work. What we do between 9 to 5 can have a profound impact on the rest of our lives and is well documented to have a direct bearing on both our mental and physical health.
The stresses we experience at work however can be highly personalised. While some people thrive in a stressful environment that would cause extreme levels of anxiety for others, similar levels of stress could be found in individuals working below their mental capacity on a production line with little or no responsibilities. Pressured deadlines, demanding bosses, office politics and long hours are just some of the catalysts that can frequently activate our stress response system.
While there are numerous lists that try to differentiate particular job categories, labelling some as “more stressful” (armed forces, police, airline pilots, journalists) than others, there is a unifying theme across all careers that seems to induce stress and anxiety. Namely control.
According to the industrial psychologist Robert Karasek, one of the main reasons we experience psychological stress at work is this lack of control (1). The inability to control of our own lives, to make our own decisions and control the various stresses and strains of the modern workplace has a direct impact on how we perceive and manage stress.
This theory hypothesises that job control improves stress-related outcomes because through control, people can actively learn effective strategies for emotionally coping with work-related challenges and tasks. We all have deadlines and targets to meet, but by having control we can learn the best approach and then select the best course of action for our own unique personality.
Research from the University College London (2) has found that having a demanding job with little control over it could be a deadly combination. They analysed 13 existing European studies covering nearly 200,000 people and found “job strain” was linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attacks and deaths from coronary heart disease.
AT&T have taken notice and adopted a corporate wellbeing program allowing staff to telecommute from home, seeing a 69% increase in productivity when staff where given autonomy in their decisions.
As organisations are becoming more aware of the impact stress on staff happiness, health and productivity, corporate wellbeing is starting to become important not only from a moral standpoint, but for the benefits it can have on a businesses bottom line.
One such program that’s increasing in popularity is the introduction of Vedic meditation in the workplace. Either as sessions that take part on the premises of an organisation, or as a company perk that gives employees access to meditation courses and classes.
Over half of managers (56 per cent) in a survey by Mind said they would like to do more to improve staff mental wellbeing but they needed more training and/ or guidance but it’s not a priority in their organisation.
While initially the idea may seem counter-intuitive, with relaxation techniques not immediately considered for a sharpening of the senses. Tests have found that using the mantras that are an inherent part of the Vedic technique actually increases the processing capabilities within the brain. Studies on fighter test pilots found that the speed, accuracy and calmness of their decisions increased by 40% over and above test subjects.
The premise is that when the mind is calm we are able to process information more clearly and our minds become less anxious about all the decisions available to us. Our executive functioning increases, task management becomes easier and everything we do is performed in an efficient and timely manner.
Clinical trials (3) that examined the effects of short-term meditators highlighted that the benefits are not solely exclusive to long term meditators. After a 4 day course subject were found to have reduced fatigue, less anxiety, improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.
With stress costing the UK economy an estimated £6.5bn a year, the recent increase in corporate wellbeing is starting to show tangible benefits for both employers and employees.
About the author: Nick Huxsted is an independent writer who’s interested in meditation research and the effects it has on the human body. He currently works at Will Williams Meditation, providing Vedic meditation in London, and is a regular contributor to Hip & Healthy.
(1) Karasek, R. A. (1979). Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 24, pp. 285-308.
(2) Bond, Frank W. and Bunce, David. 2001.
Job control mediates change in a work reorganization: intervention for stress reduction. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol. 6(No. 4), pp. 229-302 ISSN 1076-8998 [Article] : Goldsmiths Research Online.
(3) Meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training.
Author: Zeidan, Fadel, Johnson, Susan K, Diamond, Bruce J, David, Zhanna, Goolkasian, Paula