Can mindfulness save lone workers from stress?

Working alone – from home, a remote location or in an office – can be stressful. A new study suggests mindfulness can help…

Lone workers can get stressed for many reasons. The lack of a social release valve that office-based workers have, no one to turn to when struggling with specific problems, or the endless waiting for email response or returned phone calls.

But a new study by Penn State University suggests mindfulness can help lone workers to ease their stress levels.

What is mindfulness?
Often described as a form of meditation, mindfulness in practice can often be the opposite of the ‘zoning out’ meditation seen in popular culture. It’s about paying attention and noting what’s happening in your life as a way to better respond to the issues you need to tackle.

The aim is to help people respond to challenges in a calmer manner by allowing us step away from habitual and unconscious reactions to everyday events.

Those who practice it will note what is happening and then resist the temptation to respond instinctively to it. Instead, they will allow their thoughts to come and go as a way to try and see the problem for what it really is.

How can it help lone workers?
The study used new students to test the effectiveness of the practice in real world situations.

By providing them with an eight-session mindfulness training programme, the students became happier with their lives, were less depressed and anxious and didn’t drink as much alcohol.

The sessions were themed around the BREATHE acronym – body, reflections, emotions (or awareness), attention, tenderness (or self-compassion), healthy habits and empowerment.

The programme included self-awareness practices, emotion-regulation skills and simple mindfulness techniques to help students manage stressful situations.

The students said the three most effective exercises were three mindful breaths, breath awareness and mindfulness of emotions.

For lone workers, these sorts of techniques can be hugely useful. As they often don’t have the support network to help them through stressful times, having a series of exercises they can perform themselves, that won’t take time out of their working day, can help them become calmer, more focussed and better able to tackle the issue at hand.

This isn’t the first study to look at the effects of mindfulness on the workforce.

Chung-Shan Medical University in Taiwan found that factory workers who underwent a similar programme of mindfulness training reported feeling much better, had less prolonged fatigue, were less stressed, reported reduced anxiety and depression, and had fewer sleep difficulties, aches and pains. They also found that they had less problems getting along with others.