Friday, January 6, 2017

Tips for a mindful new year

By Meredith Kaiser, loss control consultant for the SC Municipal Insurance Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance Risk and Financing Fund

It’s the start of a new year and resolutions abound. How many among us have said, “I need to be more present in my life, pay more attention to what I’m doing, be more mindful of what’s happening around me.”

Growing evidence shows that mindfulness, which is defined by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way moment to moment without judgement or reactivity,” improves stress levels, back pain, cognitive function and even changes the structure of the brain.

Zinn, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT, founded the MBSR program, or mindfulness based stress reduction program, an 8-week class offered in more than 720 medical facilities around the world.

He developed MBSR to help patients, who often became depressed or developed maladaptive responses, to deal with chronic illness, pain or other medical challenges. Maladaptive responses include overuse of medications or alcohol. Zinn’s recently updated book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness includes much of the new research findings on the positive effects of mindfulness.

I took my first MBSR class in 2012. I felt it paralleled the safety concept of root cause analysis. The source of many human performance failures, such as workplace injuries, involve conditions which can be improved through mindfulness practice. One such condition is poor quality sleep.

David Gelles’ book, Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out, follows the history of the mindfulness in the United States and its impact on workplaces like Ford, General Mills, Google and Patagonia. Mental health programs, professional sports teams, schools, the U.S. military and police agencies are also seeing positive results.

The Oregon cities of Bend and Hillsboro offer mindfulness programs in their police departments. Lt. Richard Goerling of the Hillsboro police department spearheaded these programs by tailoring the MBSR program to first responders. He and a co-trainer now offer a three day Mindfulness Based Resilience Training program twice a year open to first responders from across the country, as well as other trainings. 

Recent studies of law enforcement officers have shown reductions in alcohol use, anger, aggression, and stress, as well as improvements in empathy and sleep.

Mindfulness training for West Columbia public works, parks and recreation, and maintenance departments
In 2016, the Association's Risk Management Services began offering onsite one-hour mindfulness classes for member cities in the SCMIT and SCMIRF programs. To date more than 200 employees in four cities have attended. 

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