Promoting Workplace Wellness through Mind-Body Practices

A woman is working from home, wearing headphones as she works on her laptop.

Promoting Workplace Wellness through Mind-Body Practices

The mind-body connection illustrates the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and attitudes and our physical well-being. It suggests how our mental well-being can have an influence on our physical well-being and vice versa. For example, individuals with prolonged depression, anxiety, or chronic stress can have profound physical effects such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestion problems.

Our nervous system is a world of its own with millions of connections and synapses occurring at any given moment. Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine, regulate our mood and emotions, while our autonomic nervous system controls automatic bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, and stress responses. If the body is under emotional distress, it can trigger any of these nervous systems causing a physiological response.

Our intricate mind-body relationship goes beyond our neurobiology, it is also affected by our lifestyle factors and social support (RADIAS Health, 2022). Lifestyle factors can include our diet, exercise, sleep, and substance use, all of which can impact both our mental and physical well-being. For example, it is well-established that engaging in physical activity can promote a better mood and improve our cardiovascular, cognitive, and immune health (Brummelhuis et al., 2022). Similarly, social support can act as an intermediary to stress, decreasing the risk of depression and anxiety, therefore promoting better mental and physical health (RADIAS Health, 2022).

How Do Mind-Body Practices Help Employees?

Mind-body practices originate from Buddhism with the goal of “freeing” individuals from worldly pursuits and fostering self-transcendence (Ng et al., 2020). Currently, there are several mind-body practices that have been found in the literature to have profound impacts on individuals’ physical and mental health. These practices include meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and Qigong, all of which contribute to regulating mood and treating anxiety, depression, and chronic pain (Ng et al., 2020).

In the context of work, mind-body practices have been found to facilitate goal setting and influence positive work behaviour. For example, physical activity has been shown to improve workers’ concentration, promote higher levels of self-evaluation, and increase self-efficacy during their working hours (Ng et al., 2020). Frequent engagement in mind-body practices has even been found to increase proactive behaviour in employees and the benefits can be carried forward to the next working day (Ng et al., 2020). Proactive behaviour can include goal setting, prioritizing tasks, and establishing routines, all of which are important to grow for employees as it includes improved concentration, working memory, and attention (Ng et al., 2020). Consequently, employees are better able to use their cognitive resources to solve problems and filter irrelevant distractions (Ng et al., 2020).

Mind-Body Connection Strategies

So, what can you do to reap the benefits of mind-body practices in your work?

Physical Activity
Physical activity is one of the most researched mind-body practices in improving mental and physical health. Research suggests that physical activity after a work shift can replenish employees’ self-efficacy and reduce burnout and generally improves work outcomes (Brummelhuis et al., 2022). One important work outcome is work focus, or the employee’s ability to concentrate on tasks, and it is directly correlated to work performance (Brummelhuis et al., 2022). Those individuals who engaged in moderate physical activity on a regular basis reported higher levels of self-efficacy and greater work focus, with physical activity ‘charging’ employees to boost their confidence and focus on work (Brummelhuis et al., 2022).

Check out this fantastic resource on how you can be more active during your workday: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/getting-active/how-to-be-more-active-at-work

Mindfulness
Mindfulness training correlates with organizational work outcomes such as improved employee engagement, performance, and reducing employee stress (Eby et al., 2019). Mindfulness training has also been found to enhance employee’s abilities to cope with stress and increase resiliency, especially those who are in high emotional labour careers (Eby et al., 2019). If you feel you have been operating on autopilot mode, with repetitive days and are losing focus, mindfulness will help teach you the skills of responding instead of reacting, keeping an open, curious mind, and help you remember that your thoughts are not always facts (Gerszberg, 2018).

If you want to give it a go, start with this quick 30-second relaxing breath practice as a short meditation that may help you be more present during your workday: https://youtu.be/z-3n5iBi4u0

Guided Imagery
Guided imagery is a mindfulness practice that uses each of your 5 senses to send positive messages to your mind and body (Headspace, n.d.). Benefits can include reducing frequent headaches, fear, anxiety, and psychological distress in those who engage in this practice (Headspace, n.d.). In the context of work, research has found guided imagery paired with music to have significant positive impacts on work-related stress, specifically improved perceived stress of employee, well-being, mood-disturbance, and depression/anxiety (Beck at al., 2015). Guided imagery for even just 10 minutes can stimulate real physical changes in heart rate, blood-pressure, and respiratory patterns due to the physical-mind connection imposed (Headspace, n.d.). Research found individuals engaging in guided imagery to have higher alpha brain wave activity that is associated with improved processing speeds and attentional control (Zemla et al., 2023). This can suggest guided imagery is a useful strategy for improving employees’ cognitive performances in high-stress environments (Zemla et al., 2023)

If you want to try, you can use prompts or audio recordings from the free app, Headspace, and incorporate it into your working day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Ndym-IsQg

Applying an OT Framework

The Model of Human Occupation (MOHO) is a theoretical framework rooted in Occupational Therapy. It helps us understand how individuals engage in meaningful activities and how those activities can be influenced by their environment, roles, habits, and motivation/personal values.

From the perspective of the MOHO model, incorporating mindful activities for employees promotes occupational adaptation, or how employees can adapt better to their environment through mind-body practices that rejuvenate their physical and mental well-being. It considers the effect the environment can have on employee performance and productivity, including workplace culture, ergonomics, and policies. Organizations who encourage mind-body practices at work or offer workshops can cultivate a supportive environment that further grows employees’ wellness and productivity. The MOHO also considers roles the employee may have such as manager, parent, sibling, which can be difficult to manage and stressful. By incorporating the mind-body practices, employees have an opportunity to have more balance in their lives and feel less burnout at the end of the workday as they juggle their many roles and responsibilities. Even considering volition or motivation, employees may experience burnout or increased stress from high job demands, pressure, or conflict. Mindfulness practices can help employees gently reconnect with what motivates them and their purpose in work, facilitating growth and a sense of fulfilment in each employee.

What Are the Main Takeaways?

  1. Mind-Body practices improve your physical and mental well-being. There is an abundance of research to support meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and Qigong to positively impact your physical health through improved mood, reduced anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
  2. Moderate physical activity can replenish employees’ self-efficacy and work performance. Engaging in physical activity after your working hours, such as going for a short walk during your lunch break, or in short bouts in between, can improve your self-efficacy, reduce burnout, and improve work focus, therefore improving your overall work outcomes.
  3. Mindfulness can improve employee engagement, resilience, and focus. Mindfulness training can help ground you to the present and remain focused throughout your workday, with improved performance and reduced stress.
  4. Guided imagery can reduce work-related stress. Guided imagery paired with music or audio recordings can help make a profound impact on work-related stress and stimulate positive and real physical changes in your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory patterns.
  5. The MOHO model can be applied to show the benefits of mind-body practices. The MOHO model can explain how employees can be impacted by their work environment, the different roles they are a part of (i.e., mother, employee, sister, friend), and their motivation, all of which can result in burnout and increased stress. Mind-body practices can help employees rejuvenate their physical and mental well-being and create a positive workplace culture that fosters employee growth, productivity, and satisfaction.

Ayesha Raza
Student Occupational Therapist
University of Toronto

References

Beck, B. D., Hansen, Å. M., & Gold, C. (2015). Coping with work-related stress through guided imagery and music (GIM): randomized controlled trial. Journal of music therapy, 52(3), 323-352.

Eby, L. T., Allen, T. D., Conley, K. M., Williamson, R. L., Henderson, T. G., & Mancini, V. S. (2019). Mindfulness-based training interventions for employees: A qualitative review of the literature. Human Resource Management Review, 29(2), 156-178.

Gerszberg, C. O. (2018). The Best Practices for Bringing Mindfulness to Work – Mindful. Mindful.org. Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/mindful-working-the-best-practices-for-bringing-mindfulness-to-work/

Headspace. (n.d.). Guided imagery. Retrieved from https://www.headspace.com/meditation/guided-imagery

Ng, S. M., Lo, H. H., Yeung, A., Young, D., Fung, M. H., & Wang, A. M. (2020). Study protocol of brief daily body-mind-spirit practice for sustainable emotional capacity and work engagement for community mental health workers: a multi-site randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1482.

RADIAS Health. (2022). The Mind-Body Connection: Linking Physical and Mental Health. RADIAS Health. https://www.radiashealth.org/the-mind-body-connection-linking-physical-and-mental-health/

Ten Brummelhuis, L. L., Calderwood, C., Rosen, C. C., & Gabriel, A. S. (2022). Is physical activity before the end of the workday a drain or a gain? Daily implications on work focus in regular exercisers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 107(10), 1864.

Zemla, K., Sedek, G., Wróbel, K., Postepski, F., & Wojcik, G. M. (2023). Investigating the Impact of Guided Imagery on Stress, Brain Functions, and Attention: A Randomized Trial. Sensors, 23(13), 6210.

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