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Feeling stressed or burnt out? Mindfulness could help you reset.

Mindfulness in the mountains

By Ian Lavis on behalf of Praxity Global Alliance

Accounting professionals and their clients are increasingly turning to mindfulness to unplug and de-stress from life’s pressures.

Being mindful involves training your mind to focus on what you are doing, and the space around you, so that you are fully aware of the present. This can help you feel calm and improve your mental state.

Once viewed as a new age fad, mindfulness is increasingly mainstream. Many businesses, including independent accounting firms, are incorporating mindfulness into their employee wellbeing programmes. Similarly, individual employees are embracing mindful techniques to relieve day-to-day stress.

Managing stress at work

Mazars, a member of Praxity Global Alliance, is among the firms to witness dramatic employee benefits of tapping into mindfulness at work.

In the UK, the firm commissioned psychologist Chris Finn, of Poole Mindfulness, to deliver an introduction to mindfulness at work to 40 staff just as the pandemic hit, with many employees plunged into working from home for the first time.

The programme focused on managing the distractions at home, the boundaries of home/work life, managing change and stress, and increasing resilience during the pandemic. The training was so successful it was opened up to 2,000 staff nationwide, with dramatic results:

• 97% of people felt more calm
• 97% felt more focused, and less distracted
• 93% said they were less stressed
• 93% reported being more engaged with their work

Mazars subsequently commissioned Chris to help onboard new interns with mindfulness sessions. Employees who took part in the training said it was “invaluable” and “truly inspiring”.

Time to unplug

Praxity member firm DHG is also investing in mindfulness to help employee wellbeing. The firm recently began offering the mindfulness app called Headspace to employees as part of its wellness programme.

Alice Grey Harrison, Director of Communications at the US accounting firm, says “taking just a few minutes to practice mindfulness between tasks can sometimes be all that’s needed to de-stress”.

Scott Yandle, Senior Assurance Manager at DHG’s Greenville office, is among the converts. Describing his story in an illuminating DHG podcast, Scott says learning how to be aware of the present moment has helped him “ratchet down the stress” when it builds and builds.

He admits he used to spend “99% of the day doing stuff”, with no time for reflection. Now, he takes time out at regular intervals to de-stress using mindfulness techniques.

Mindfulness is a quality every human possesses. The secret lies in learning how to access it by taking short breaks to focus on the moment. This is not always easy when we are trying to deal with day-to-day pressures of the pandemic, work, family or other causes of stress.

“If you can unplug for a second, the stress stops building and it actually goes down because you can take yourself out of a stressful situation and then think for a second, ‘alright, how do I get myself out of it?’ or ‘I understand and here’s how I’m going to deal with it’. It just gives you some time to unplug. I found that’s really helped me be more positive, and it’s just not as crazy. It really has helped with the stress level for me,” Scott says.

Explaining how he incorporates mindfulness at work, he adds: “I have actually put something on my calendar every day an hour after lunch to try to reflect. I don’t get an hour every day, but it makes me think when it comes to my phone or [being] on my computer, ‘Hey, take some time for yourself real quick. Meditate. Think. Read a book for a second. Do whatever. Call your kids. Whatever you want to do, but take some time for yourself to just pull out of the fire for a second and then you can plug back in.”

Time to think

Commenting on the Headspace app being offered to DHG staff, Scott says: “The great thing about the app is it guides you step-by-step, so you’re not just sitting there in silence. You’re actually thinking while being silent. I think that’s what really has helped me manage stress.”

One of the challenges of promoting mindfulness at work is the commonly held notion that it is only for a certain type of person. Alice Grey admits she “almost fell out of my chair” when Scott said one of the keys to his success is meditation. “I’m not sure why I was shocked, but anytime I see Scott, he’s always positive. He’s very successful. He’s calm. But he doesn’t look like a meditation type person.”

Debunking a misconception about how mindfulness is practiced, Scott says you don’t have to close your eyes and sit on the floor in the traditional style. “You can just do it anywhere, which I love.” He advises anyone looking to practise mindfulness to “stick with it” even if it seems boring or uncomfortable at first, adding, “once you start seeing the benefits of it, you’ll be hooked”.

Where to get more information and tools

If you would like to try out mindfulness techniques for yourself, it’s worth considering online help. The University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre, a charitable organisation aiming to reduce suffering and improve wellbeing through mindfulness, offers free online sessions for newbies and those looking to practise with a group on a regular basis.

There are a large range of useful apps now available, many with free trials, including Headspace, Calm and InsightTimer. The Mindful organisation provides a useful guide to five leading apps.

Tom Brichieri-Colombi, Partner, Infrastructure and Energy at Mazars, has written an insightful blog sharing his personal experience of stress in the workplace and the importance of taking care of our mental health: