The coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown during March 2020 created an immediate and unprecedented change of home and work environment for everyone throughout the UK. In Rochdale Borough Council we have been considering the wellbeing of staff and how mindfulness meditations could help.
Staff working with children and families quickly moved into an environment where maintaining contact with babies, children, young people and their families was increasingly difficult through face to face contact using personal protective equipment (PPE) and new social distancing measures, with a mixture of virtual contact using platforms such as Skype, FaceTime or text messaging.
All of this was paralleled with changes to our personal environment, bringing additional pressures such as new working from home schedules, home schooling or caring for family members. For those staff members living alone, significantly reduced office working impacted the social contact work brings, their landscape changed to one of immediate isolation.
What we did in Rochdale
Rochdale Borough Council Children’s Services Workforce Development knew that the wellbeing of the staff was paramount as our lives had changed dramatically overnight. Staff were dealing with higher personal and work pressures than ever before, which could naturally lead to higher levels of anxiety and stress. As a Children’s Services Workforce Learning & Development Officer, I felt I could use my skills to reduce these anxiety levels. With 40 years personal yoga practice, 20 years yoga teaching experience and with a background in education, Children’s Services, Local Safeguarding Children’s and Adult Partnerships, plus my current Learning and Development role, I felt that short mindfulness meditations could help.
What research says about mindfulness?
Mindfulness is maintaining attention on the present moment creating acceptance and investigation of present experience, thoughts, feelings, sensations and surrounding environment. With many different ways of mindfully meditating, there is much research on the benefits of regular mindfulness practices which can include:
Reduced stress response, reduced adrenaline and cortisol production (with impacts strongest for individuals with the highest levels of stress), which in turn reduces inflammation levels in the body (a positive as higher inflammation levels can affect mood leading to depression). (Goyal et al., 2014) (Orme-Johnson, D. and Barnes, V. 2013) (Rosenkranza, A. et al 2013) (Reddy Kasala, E. et al 2013).
Reduced anxiety and anxiety related illnesses (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome). (Chen, K. et al. 2012) (Miller, J. et al. 1995).
Improved emotional health, decreases depression, and improves mood plus self-awareness creates emotional regulation (Jain, F. et al. 2014). Regular mindfulness practices can create a clearer sense of connection with others, awareness of self and integration of mind body wellbeing when individuals practice on a regular basis, impacts can be an increased sense of clarity, calm, a deeper sense of stability and even vitality, not just during the practice itself, but during the rest of the day.
Practicing mindfulness in groups helped us create a sense of care, community and support which was much welcomed during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
I began to offer morning and late afternoon mindfulness meditations for Children’s Services staff via Skype with the aim of helping staff find relief from the body’s expressions of stress and anxiety – enabling them to find a point of steadiness and relaxation either at the start of or the end of their working day.
Mindfulness meditation calls lasted 30 minutes for up to 30 staff per session. This included a short introduction, a 20 minute guided practice and I was available after the sessions via telephone or email for additional support. Places were in high demand and immediately we could see this was something staff wanted in the current climate.
Results and impact for staff in Rochdale
Staff repeatedly fed back that they benefitted from these much needed restorative sessions which helped them to ground, centre, gather together scattered minds and let go of strong emotions to find a space of rest and stillness. These sessions gave staff the time and space to restore and replenish, and were then able to support themselves and others in both their home and work life.
Feedback from colleagues
‘I have never felt so relaxed whilst responding to my emails, words can’t say how much I appreciated you making me feel lighter, less pressured, I am so relaxed right now. I can’t wait for Friday morning my next mindfulness session.’ Supporting Families Keyworker
‘It was so relaxing. At the start of the session I released some emotion, and feel much more grounded now; a much needed end (to what was a stressful day).’ Adoption Support Worker
‘I have been struggling to balance working from home, home schooling and complete isolation [with a high-risk family member] it has left me feeling a little frazzled! I just wanted to let you know how helpful I found the session today thank you for helping me feel more relaxed and for supporting me to take a few minutes to myself.’ Social Worker
‘The mindfulness session was wonderful, I often struggle to find people who I can listen to and relax with. The pace was just right and I felt completely relaxed, almost like I had just had a massage.’ Early Years Advisory Teacher
'I've been able to quieten the 'mind chatter' that keeps me awake at night.’ Supporting Families Keyworker
Over 11 weeks from April to July 2020, 18 sessions were delivered to 344 staff members (equating to approximately 50% of the Rochdale Children’s Services workforce). We consulted with staff afterwards to gain information on whether staff felt the sessions were useful and to gauge whether they would want the sessions to continue these results showed;
- 98% found the sessions useful.
- 98% would attend sessions again, in any form of delivery, favouring conference calls.
- 58% have continued with a personal mindfulness practice since.
There are plans now for me to share these practices with the whole of the Rochdale Borough Council workforce from September 2020 onwards. These will include weekly zoom mindfulness meditations and separate zoom yoga sessions.
Other local authorities have also expressed interest in this work plus I am devising a workshop on dealing with stress in the workplace for newly qualified social workers.
Keep an eye out for some very relaxed practitioners in Rochdale Borough and beyond! It will be a pleasure to share this restorative practice wholeheartedly with colleagues.
If anyone is interested in finding out more or would like to help us to measure the impact of this future work my contact details are below.