Full Catastrophe Living. The advantages and disadvantages of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction meditation technique at work

Andreea Moldovan

9 minutes read

Romanian corporations too are now hiring Chief Happiness Officers. How do we approach the subject of happiness at work and what does an employee need in order to be happy? Or, at least, what does an employee need not to be stressed out at work?

This subject is discussed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book, Full Catastrophe Living. Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. His program of Stress Reduction and Mindfulness meditation is currently shared on social networks by many health experts, psychology, sport or education specialists, but also by entrepreneurs and managers.

What used to be a rather small social phenomenon turned into a mass culture thanks to the social media. Digital marketing (blogs, websites, pod-casts, online conferences) helped promote the program, which is partially a social network phenomenon.

Originally practiced on individuals, small groups or patients undergoing allopathic treatment for various chronic diseases, the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction meditation technique is today common within all industries, institutions and corporations. Therefore let’s see how this technique could help us at work.

The advantages and disadvantages of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction meditation technique at work

The Mindfulness techniques proposed by Kabat-Zinn reduce stress and can improve chronic problems (for example, a truck driver who was taking part in group sessions had his chronic pain reduced by 45-50% at the end of his sessions). However, work problems need more than this to be solved. Or, in other words, why is it that work problems cannot be solved on individual basis, in therapy offices or in therapy groups, through personal development programs or spiritual techniques? What else do we need to solve work related problems (like stress, relocation, remote work, dissatisfaction, status)? Please see below a few of the possible answers and what we can learn from the book Full Catastrophe Living:

  1. Programs at the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Clinic use an individual approach to reduce anxiety, panic and chronic pain.

Four techniques of the ones proposed by Kabat-Zinn grabbed my attention:

  1. Mindfulness of breathing – calmly concentrate on your breathing rate and on the movements of the respiratory system
  2. Sitting meditation – you have to sit in a relaxing position and effortlessly concentrate your attention on your stream of thoughts, feelings, body sensations, pain, discomfort or on a painful organ.
  3. Walking meditation – you have to actively concentrate on movement and be fully aware of your walking activity.
  4. Body-scan meditation – at the clinic people work on their symptoms. A chronic pain is reduced by attentively visualizing your entire body, from the tip of your toes to the top of your body.

Work stress can thus be reduced using the above techniques, in therapy sessions (individual or group) with qualified staff, in order to improve the quality of each employee’s life. But teamwork or remote teamwork mean working in a group, with shared experiences, and the difficulty to fit in, the lack of safety or the tensions one might experience do not solve themselves only by ‘self-help’ or through personal therapy, in a each for himself manner, but also with social support.

There is the pressure of handling many changes like the relationships changed by remote work, the change of the work environment, the office, the tasks and statue, the way you handled injustices or inequality, the work conditions, the culture or the shared organizational values. They are not, or at least should not be, just labels, they are powerful when they are enacted through law and collective actions, not only individual actions.

2. If work stress (either at home or at the office) is a symptom, then it might be because we work in a disorganized manner or we do not efficiently plan our time and activities – disorganized and chaotic work which takes the entire day – or because we do not efficiently manage our work relationships.

Personalized courses are helpful, be them individual or group sessions of Mindfulness or time management courses carried out by the company or outsourced, but the quality of your work and work relations can no longer be improved only by individual actions, but also by management policies that would involve the entire team.

3. Kabat-Zinn criticizes the way of thinking about one’s own problems alone (one’s own subjectivity / wishful thinking) without taking into consideration the responsibility one has towards the others or the tensions that arise between oneself and the others.

Remote work or normal work, in a professional or organizational community, the employee who strives to only “improve himself” ignoring the others or even at the expense of the others, will probably understand why the slogan “You are the creator of your own destiny/ You are the centre of your universe” does not stand.

Otherwise how will we be able to take care of ourselves and, in the same time, of the relationships with our co-workers, especially now when we build our work relationships over the internet?

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Written by Andreea Moldovan


Andreea has a Bachelor’s degree in Philology, she has published articles and reviews, and she writes about books that interest her.

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