What is mindfulness, and how can it help you cope with the pressures of your role?
10 September 2021
For professionals in the health, social care or voluntary sector, working under immense pressure may feel like the norm. If you're feeling the strain, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for NHS, Social Care and Voluntary Sector Staff: Living Kindly whilst Caring may offer some much-needed respite and refreshment.
We asked course leads Karen Partridge and Julia Granville to tell us more. Scroll down to watch their conversation, read a summary and try out a brief, mindfulness-based practice for yourself.
As well as being mindfulness teachers, Karen Partridge and Julia Granville are both Systemic Psychotherapists. Semi-retired Julia has a background as a social worker, and Karen is also a Clinical Psychologist. Their experience has afforded the pair a unique understanding of how the everyday stress of a caretaking role can take a toll on workers in the health, social care and voluntary sectors. This newly adapted CPD course addresses this challenge – equipping participants with the tools and techniques to incorporate mindfulness-based cognitive therapy into their personal and professional lives.
What is mindfulness?
The concept of mindfulness is often misunderstood. Although mindfulness can be equated with relaxation, “that’s not really the definition of mindfulness,” explains Karen. “It's much more about being present with your experience, but being present with it in a kindly way." Mindfulness is a very effective way of training our attention.
"People often talk about it as about 'being' rather than 'doing'," Julia adds. "Knowing that you’re doing something as you do it, being in it rather than thinking about the next ten things you’re going to be doing." By using mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques, you can expect to find much-needed respite and refreshment, and a feeling of "coming back to the body – in space, in time, in this moment."
Comprising eight 2.5-hour sessions, a follow-up session and a day 'retreat', all delivered via Zoom, this course is about "bringing mindfulness into your life and into your work to help steady ourselves in the work that we do and also as a way to bring in self-care," says Karen. In light of increasing evidence of the benefits of mindfulness to health, social care and voluntary sector staff, this course has been adapted specifically to address the unique pressure this already hard-working workforce has been under due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I think that staff are exhausted, and we’re not at the end of it yet," says Karen. "So, we wanted to bring in this course because it’s something we’ve found very helpful and we think other people will also find helpful." The global nature of the pandemic has also created the unusual situation of a mutual experience: "Usually we’re working with people whose life experiences are very different from ours, or mostly different from ours, but one of the things about the pandemic is that everybody has been experiencing the same issues."
"This means that we as professionals are particularly challenged, as this mutuality cuts through some of the defences that we have used as professionals to keep our personal and professional lives distinct," Karen explains. Mindfulness offers a way of managing the stress of a caring role by "being alongside our experience whilst challenging some of the thinking patterns that can exacerbate stress". And this provides the opportunity to be "fully present in our lives and relationships – both within the work context and beyond."
As with many things, the more you can put into the course the more you will get from it. Therefore, an important aspect of the course is the need for participants to carve out time not only to attend the sessions, but also for practice in between. By allocating this time in their busy lives, participants will leave the course having embraced mindfulness as a part of their daily routine – sowing seeds which will continue to grow after the course.
Julia encourages applicants to strongly consider whether they are able to make this commitment. "We'd invite you to think: is this a good time?" she asks. "Have you got the feeling of a commitment to trying something? Because it does take time; both the time that the actual course takes up, but also the time for a bit of practice in between sessions." Karen and Julia anticipate that participants will need to allocate roughly 30 minutes a day, some to be while they do everyday things such as having a shower or making a cup of tea, but "some of it will take a bit of extra time – to reflect, to think, to try things out."
Try it for yourself: a mindfulness based brief practice
As well as exploring a variety of techniques during the virtual sessions, participants will learn how to incorporate and embed mindfulness based cognitive therapy and the three core practices of mindful movement, the body scan and sitting practice into their life. NHS, social care and voluntary sector staff often find themselves time-poor, so in addition to the long practices Karen and Julia will illustrate throughout the course, it is the brief practices they believe are uniquely beneficial and so vital to staff already struggling to find time for self-care.
In this video clip, Karen and Julia demonstrate a two-minute brief practice that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. As Julia explains, “our experience has been that little practices can be the ‘lifebelt’… Sometimes, it’s those little mini practices that can really ground you and keep you going through it.” If you're looking for a short and sweet introduction to mindfulness-based exercises, try this one out – you can come back to the steps whenever you need to take a pause and ground yourself in the present moment.
Could you benefit from this course?
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for NHS, Social Care and Voluntary Sector Staff: Living Kindly whilst Caring is designed specifically to help professionals in the health, social care and voluntary sectors manage work pressures differently, enjoy life, and cultivate qualities of empathy for themselves and others. Participants may also find that their patients, clients or service users are able to benefit from the practices covered.