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Mindfulness and a happier you – how to be happier, healthier, less stressed and more resilient in work and in life!

Jason Maitland, IOSH Caribbean Branch Chair, introduced the presenter, Makeda McKenzie. Makeda has over 20 years’ experience in Corporate HR and obtained her mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training first from the University of Massachusetts, Medical School, and later her teacher training from the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine (UCSD). Both prestigious institutions are widely considered to be the preeminent thought and research leaders in the field of Mindfulness Studies. She is the founder of the Caribbean Mindfulness Institute, established in 2017.

Here is a summary of the interactive presentation:

Stress and You
Makeda shared that she stumbled across mindfulness when trying to deal with personal stress and anxiety. This was compounded by a 5 hour commute, personal health issues and a demanding job. During religious intercession she sought a solution and the word meditation came to her. She started with transcendental meditation which involved chants and specific postures. She conducted additional research as she wanted the benefits of meditation without the extra chants and postures.

What is stress?
The presenter then discussed that the body does not differentiate between real and imagined stress. When you have a bad dream that you are in a vehicular accident your body will react the same way as if you were in an actual accident. We must remember that some stress is good, low grade stress boosts creativity, innovation, motivation, etc. The dangerous stress is the chronic stress that lasts for days, weeks, months, etc. Chronic stress comes from situations such as a demanding job, caring for an ill relative, etc.

Ms. McKenzie stated that even if we believe we don’t have stress life can throw us a curve ball. Thinking back on 2020 we still on your new year high, plans for the year and then the pandemic struck. This came out of nowhere for many people who believe they were able to manage their stress were suddenly overwhelmed. Knowing how to manage chronic stress is a valuable skill even if we don’t believe we have chronic stress.

The presenter described how chronic stress can manifest in several ways. Some of these are feelings of being withdrawn, abusing alcohol, abusing food, abusing pills, feelings of depression, digestive issues, etc. There are also health problems caused by chronic stress which can include high blood pressure / sugar, higher risk of heart attacks, headaches, insomnia, tense muscles, etc. Chronic stress also causes physical changes to the brain, the brain appears smother as opposed to persons who are not under chronic stress.

Chronic stress inhibits our ability to cope with regular short term stress. Makeda explained that It is possible to manage chronic stress. These can include, rest, relax and recharge, taking a vacation, adequate sleep (7 to 9 hours for adults) and exercise.

What is Mindfulness 
Makeda shared that the topic of mindfulness has been appearing in print media, some headlines include:

  • Short circuit stress: Mindful meditation may be key to better sleep – The Today Show
  • Meditation give brain a charge – The Washington Post
  • Even beginners can curb pain with meditation – National Public Radio
  • Meditation is proven to be the serene way to get smarter – Lifehacker

There have been recent appearances on 60 minutes with Anderson Cooper, Oprah Winfrey and Don Harris who shared that he had panic attacks in his later years and found relief though mindfulness. Companies such as Google, Nike, Apple, etc. train employees on mindfulness techniques. There are also local companies such as Flow, UWI, EOG, etc.

The presenter illustrated that two people may be at a physical location but not there. Some persons may be preoccupied and not in moment. Mindlessness on the other hand looks like making mistakes because of being carelessness, being overly preoccupied, failing to truly pay attention to others, judging yourself harshly, etc.

Mindfulness has been defined as:

  • Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Mindfulness is a quality of alert, open awareness, in contrast to multitasking mind, mindfulness is a state of mind that has the ability to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment – Harvard University

On average we have between 50 to 70 thousand thoughts per day. Our mind wanders 46.9% of waking hours (Killingsworth & Gilbert 2010) Our minds are Teflon for good experiences and Velcro for bad experiences (Teflon is a non-stick coating and Velcro is a fabric fastener). In prehistoric times our minds are wired to remember where the dangers lay such as predators as opposed to what made them feel happy. Unfortunately, this conditioning has stayed with us to this day and we remember what worried us, usually things we have no control over and not what made us happy.

Mindfulness helps to curb mind wandering. Makeda explained that by training our attention on our chosen object of focus such as breathing we can train our brain not to wander. Meditation is like a workout for your brain, it has been shown to change the structure of the brain.

Benefits of mindfulness training:
Some of the benefits of mindfulness training includes:

  • Reduced rumination
  • Improved focus
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Stress reduction
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • Improved health
  • Boosts working memory
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Better quality of life

We can build a meditation practice by trying the following:

  • Find the right motivation and intention
  • Find the right attitude and attention
  • Find the right time and timing
  • Find the right spot and posture
  • Find the right routine and stick to it

Remember any activity can be a mindful activity. Try to be in the moment, soften areas of tension, take a few mindful breaths, taking the radio off and enjoy the silence, etc.

Makeda ended the presentation by taking questions. If you need to contact her, you can follow her on social media or e mail her at caribbeanmbsr@gmail.com