One of the most popular self care activities for social workers is mindfulness, an approach that has been found to be extremely beneficial, with some people continuing to practice it throughout their lives. If you are looking for an easy but highly rewarding daily routine with both short term and long term benefits, mindfulness is a fantastic, flexible, and free way to improve your overall mental health.
There are a variety of mindfulness techniques that can help you connect with your feelings, your body, and even the environment around you to help you find strength in your job as well as lifting your spirits in your day to day life. Beyond the link between social work and mindfulness, anyone working in any field is likely to experience positive mental health results from embracing a daily meditation practice.
To learn more about mindfulness in social work, fitting mindfulness into your schedule, specific mindfulness techniques that can be adapted to accommodate your schedule, and other ways that social work and mindfulness fit together, read our guide below.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a meditation technique that aims to bring you to a heightened state of awareness and presence in the moment, with effects that many remark to be at once calming and energizing. It is a long-term practice meant to be incorporated into your daily routines, which means it is also highly flexible, accommodating whatever your scheduling needs are.
Mindfulness is an increasingly popular way for individuals to find peace, calm, and control in their lives, understanding that investing in one’s own mental health is the surest way to effect change in your larger circumstances. This is why mindfulness in social work can be so helpful – if you feel fulfilled in your life and at peace with your emotions, you are more likely to take control of your job and see the outcomes you want from professional challenges. However, social workers are not the only people decide to take on a daily meditation practice.
Indeed, anyone can practice mindfulness, no matter where you are or how little time you have. Some people only have five minutes to devote to mindfulness, and even they report benefits and a growing appreciation of the time set aside in their day to enter a different state of awareness.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Importantly, mindfulness is not meant to be oriented toward a specific goal, such as achieving higher levels of concentration or feeling more deeply relaxed. You can’t sit down to meditate hoping that afterwards you will complete all of your work in one sitting. Rather, the benefits of mindfulness reveal themselves in the long-term, with many reporting reduced feelings of anxiety, better overall emotional regulation, improved outlook, and even stronger memory. You can see from these why social work and mindfulness go hand in hand.
Some of the other demonstrated benefits of mindfulness include the following:
- Higher levels of motivation
- Improved self-esteem and confidence in one’s abilities
- Lowered levels of stress
- Decreased addictive behaviors
- Higher productivity
Indeed, the benefits of mindfulness have been researched for over 40 years in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and medicine, with studies showing that mindfulness was a highly effective strategy to help individuals improve their mental health in a variety of ways, both to support them in the short term and the long term. A 2016 study of those struggling with addiction, for example, found that mindfulness practices reduced rates of relapse for up to 60 weeks. A 2017 study, meanwhile, found evidence to suggest that regular brief mindfulness practice can increase levels of attention in people over the age of 55. There is even research to suggest that a daily meditation practice improves your immune system by increasing the antibodies that protect you from illnesses like the flu. These are just a few of the benefits that mindfulness has been shown to have on mental health.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Mindful meditation is a pause in one’s day to make oneself aware of what you are feeling, sensing, and experiencing without judgment or reaction. The mental state that mindfulness brings out is one of neutral, peaceful awareness, allowing thoughts and sensations to rise and fall away.
Indeed, mindfulness is extremely simple. What can be more difficult for some people is achieving the mental state that mindfulness is meant to bring forth. If you are trying to bring mindfulness into your daily routine but are feeling distracted or ill-at-ease when you attempt to meditate, don’t be hard on yourself – like anything, mindfulness takes practice, and the more often you sit down for a mindful meditation, the more likely you are to arrive at the state of awareness you are seeking to cultivate.
For many, the hardest part of starting a mindful meditation practice is finding the time. For those who work long hours, it can be daunting to try to figure out when you can interrupt your busy schedule to sit down and “do nothing” for an extended period of time. Just remember, when starting a meditation practice, it’s okay to start small. All you really need is a quiet space to sit and as few as five minutes in your day.
Mindfulness Awareness Techniques
Mindfulness is an expansive and general category, meaning there are many different ways it can be practiced. Below is a guide to some of the most straightforward mindfulness techniques, each of which is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Whether alternating between these different focuses or picking one to become your primary mode of practicing mindfulness, these methods should help you start a mindfulness practice quickly.
Mindfulness of Breath
Perhaps the most pared-down and essential form of meditation, focusing on breath is an incredibly simple mindfulness technique. All it takes to practice mindful breathing is turning one’s awareness specifically to the breath. Most practitioners of mindfulness recommend breathing through the nose while practicing this type of meditation. The natural cycle of inhalation and exhalation offers a simple rhythm that sets a soothing metronome.
This technique could not be easier to follow. But to achieve a state of mindful meditation, what’s crucial is the mentality that you embrace while focused on breathing. Thoughts may cross your mind as you meditate – in fact, that is to be expected. But your objective must be not to focus on them or ruminate upon them, instead letting them pass so that you can return to your neutral focus on breathing.
One can perform a mindful breathing exercise in as little as 30 seconds and feel calming, clarifying effects. If you don’t know how to link social work and mindfulness, this is the easiest way to get started. Those who develop a longer-term practice tend to begin with five minute intervals, building up gradually to longer and longer periods of time (typically maxing out around 30 minutes, although those who take to it and have the time practice even longer periods of meditation).
Mindfulness of Sensations
Raising your own awareness of the physical sensations you are experiencing is another way to practice mindfulness in social work. These sensations can be internal – from headaches to muscle tension to tastes on the tongue – or external, such as the feeling of a light breeze, the sounds of your environment, the aroma of the room you are in, or anything else.
Mindfulness of sensations can be practiced in a traditional meditation context – seated or lying on your back with your eyes closed – but you can also train yourself to raise awareness in your day to day life. Next time you shower, take a moment to truly focus your attention on the feeling of the water. When folding laundry, appreciate the textures of your different articles of clothing. You may realize how rare it is to take a moment to simply appreciate the sensations of what you are already doing in your day to day life.
Mindfulness of Thoughts and Feelings
While mindfulness of your thoughts and feelings can be built into other meditation practices (such as mindful breathing, mentioned above), you can also practice raising your awareness of your own thoughts and feelings. This is a great way to find mindfulness in social work. What’s required here is non-judgment, acting almost as an impartial observer to your own reactions and emotions. In a way, this approach asks you to take a step back from your feelings, allowing you to see them without getting caught up in them. However, the goal here is not to analyze the thoughts and feelings that pass. Rather, the goal is to let them rise and fall, releasing them as soon as they come to the surface.
Mindful of the Body
Another way to join social work and mindfulness is through a technique that can help direct your focus is to raise your bodily awareness. One method is by doing a “body scan,” which is best done lying down on your back but can also be done in a seated position. What’s important is that you are comfortable. All you need to do next is focus your attention on your physical sensations from head to toe, spending time registering what you are sensing in each part of the body. When you sense discomfort (assuming it is not related to how you are positioned), simply perceive the sensation, turning your focus to it and then letting it pass away as you move to other parts of the body.
Mindful of Movement
There are many mindful movement practices designed to heighten engagement between the brain and the body. Yoga and tai chi are two excellent examples of practices that include elements of meditation, drawing from mindful practices such as breathing exercises and sensorial awareness to experience a feeling of presence in movement. Please note that there are versions of these practices that are aimed more primarily at fitness and exercise; in order to gain the full benefits of a mindfulness regimen, classes more focused on awareness are key.
How Mindfulness Can Help Social Workers
It’s easy to see how social work and mindfulness fit together. It’s important for social workers to learn self care strategies to maintain their drive and positivity while navigating the immense responsibilities of their job. This is why so many practice mindfulness in social work environments, as it offers a resource that couldn’t be simpler to access.
If you’re a social worker who would like to get started with a mindfulness practice, start by figuring out when you might be able to allot time for mindful meditation each day. While some find different times to practice mindfulness each day, it can help greatly to make your meditation practice a routine. Remember, you’ll receive most of the benefits of mindfulness over time, and you may need some time to get the hang of it. If you are trying to achieve mindfulness in social work, commit to sticking it out even if it is initially difficult.
More Information for Social Workers
Now that you know about how social work and mindfulness relate, you may be feeling compelled to bring meditation into your life as well. Beyond mindfulness, there are other self care activities that can help you be the best social worker you can be while giving space to the rest of your life. If you would like to learn more social worker self care tips and tricks, take a look at our collection of guides to help you get the most out of your profession:
- Self Care for Social Workers
- The Importance of Empathy in Social Work
- Professional Boundaries in Social Work
- Engaging in Self Awareness as a Social Worker