Career & Professional
Occupational Stress Relief
Sahaja Meditation Shown to Relieve Occupational Stress, Depression and Anxiety
Occupational health is a growing concern in the modern workplace. Workplace stress is a pervasive human condition that will continue to plague business as long as we continue to employ humans to conduct business. In fact, 25 percent of U.S. workers view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives (NIOSH, 2002). The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency tasked with investigating workplace hazards like toxic chemicals and faulty scaffolding, has actually gone so far as to declare stress “a hazard of the workplace.”
A little stress can be good for us. It can help drive us to achieve peak performance and productivity. It spurs us across the finish line. Short-term stress amps performance. But chronic, sustained stress erodes productivity. Stress only becomes a problem when we have too much stress and not enough inner resources to cope with it, or at least, when we have the perception that we’re not equipped to cope. Workplace stress tends to occur when we have doubts about our ability to deal with the demands of the job.
A Bristol Stress and Health Study assessing 17,000 workers found that approximately 20 percent of them experienced “very high” or “extremely high” levels of stress at work, and that this stress negatively effected workers’ physiology and mental performance, and increased the risk of workplace accidents (Wadsworth, et al., 2003; Smith, et al., 2000). Other studies paint an even bleaker picture. A Yale University survey, for example, puts the “extremely stressed at work” population at around 29 percent of workers (Barsade, 1997).
Workplace studies consistently show that 1 in 4 workers have taken “a mental health day” simply to cope with stress.
Many of us are simply living more stressful lives. In an increasingly global economic environment, we’re certainly living busier, more competitive lives. The resulting stress — and its descendants: depression and anxiety — follows its victims to work, invading our daily tasks. It inserts itself into our relationships with customers and co-workers. It reduces productivity and diminishes career satisfaction, self-confidence and self-esteem. And, ultimately, it creates an unhealthy workplace can lead to an unhealthy bottom line.
Participants in a survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Disorders Association of America (ADAA) said that the main causes of their work-related stress were:
- deadlines (55 percent)
- interpersonal relationships (53 percent)
- staff management (50 percent)
- dealing with issues/problems that arise (49 percent)(Source: ADAA, 2006)
Participants said that the negative repercussions of their work-related stress and anxiety included:
- workplace performance (56 percent)
- relationship with coworkers and peers (51 percent)
- quality of work (50 percent)
- relationships with superiors (43 percent)
The Ripple Effect
In the U.S., depression and social phobia (social anxiety) are believed to be the most prevalent mental disorders — 6 percent and 7 percent (4 percent diagnosed, 3 percent undiagnosed), respectively. Anxiety disorders such as PTSD, GAD, and panic disorder, each have prevalence rates of around 3 percent, and undiagnosed rates of 1 percent (NHANES, 1999-2002; NHIS, 2005).
The cost of workplace stress is not just measured in dollars and cents. It costs us in a lot of other ways, too. Workplace stress engineers a ripple effect that invades every corner of our lives. For those who report that stress interferes with their work, job stress has personal consequences, as well…
- 83 percent of men and 72 percent for women say workplace stress carries over to their personal life
- 79 percent of these men and 61 percent of the women report that workplace stress affects their personal relationships, primarily spousal relationships(Source: NHANES, 1999-2002; NHIS, 2005)
But less than half of employees who say that stress interferes with their work will talk to their employer about it (ADAA, 2006). Why? Fear. The fear of stigma.
The Risk of Revealing
Most employees working through depression and anxiety struggle with the question: Do I tell or not? Each choice carries risks. Both have far-reaching ramifications.
People are invariably concerned about confidentiality, for fear that acknowledging a mental health problem will cost them their jobs, or at least impact their future with the company. They fear that they will be seen as defective, weak, a liability. They worry about being ostracized or made fun of by co-workers. One survey of people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder found that only 25 percent of them told their employers (ADAA, 2006). The other 75 percent kept silent out of fear that:
- the boss would interpret it as lack of interest or unwillingness to do a particular task (38 percent)
- it would affect promotion opportunities (34 percent)
- it would go in their file (31 percent)
It’s no wonder that workers with stress-related illnesses deny, avoid, marginalize or rationalize their symptoms. Around half of them will never receive treatment, even though, chances are, management has already spotted those symptoms. Who’s to blame? Overstressed workers who don’t seek help? Or managers who don’t step in to offer assistance?
Whether or not you believe that organizations have an ethical responsibility to reduce workplace stress and to provide support and treatment to overstressed workers, it’s become clear that doing so is to everyone’s advantage. In the U.S., workplace stress is so prevalent that 21 percent of the American workforce is experiencing at least one mental health or substance use disorder each year (NHANES, 2002).
This is not an insignificant statistic. And it comes with a hefty price tag.
The ROI of Employee Wellness
Stress-related illnesses can be disabling. By the early 1990s, workplace stress-related disorders had already become the most prevalent cause of worker disability (Hurrell, 1992), manifesting as absenteeism, workforce turnover, loss of productivity and disability pension costs (Fielding, 1989; Palmer, 1994). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently found that workers who must take time off work from stress-related disorders will be off the job for about 20 days. The 2001-2002 U.S. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) survey found that people experiencing stress, anxiety or depression brought on or made worse by work lost, on average, 29 days of work.
Stress is expensive… for the stressed employee, for his or her family and friends, and for the employer. Some costs have an obvious price tag attached. Others, like the stress-related illnesses themselves, are slippery and shifting and harder to measure in dollars and cents
Under any economic model you could think of, the value of an employee’s output should at least be equal to the employee’s compensation package; otherwise, the company is losing money on that employee, right? So unless the absent worker is replaced or the work load is successfully shifted, the average productivity loss during a disabled employee’s absence is likely to equal or exceed the employee’s compensation for the absence period.
The direct cost of Sick Time has been estimated to be around $602 per employee, per year (Chapman, L., 2007). On the other hand, organizations are estimated to save $350 per employee, per year for employees who don’t even necessarily improve their health, but don’t add new risk factors either.
Health care expenditures alone, increasing at a rate of 8 to 14 percent annually, threaten the profitability and survival of organizations of all sizes. People who experience work stress have higher health care expenditures. A study of 46,000 workers found that health care costs were nearly 50 percent higher for workers reporting high levels of stress, in comparison to “low risk” workers. For workers with high levels of both stress and depression, costs were nearly 150 percent higher, an increase of more than $1,700 per person annually (Atlantis E.. et al, 2006).
Stress-related illnesses increase prescription costs. Depressed employees taking medications, for example, cost their employers more than 2.5 times as much for prescription medications and require nearly 3 times as many prescriptions per year as non-depressed employees (von Heymann, 2008). Thirty percent of those with daily stress have taken prescription medication to manage stress, nervousness, emotional problems or lack of sleep. And depression and anxiety are linked to other costly chronic conditions, such as anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, hypertension, inflammatory conditions and asthma.
Occupational stress impacts the workplace in subtle, often incalculable ways. Employee morale, for example, is tricky to quantify. As is the loss of good employees who, with treatment, might have recovered quickly and become model employees again. Not to mention the loss of employees who ultimately resented having to compensate, day in and day out, for the impaired job performance of a coworker with mental health problems. In the United States, the annual economic, indirect cost of mental illness is estimated to be $79 billion. Around $63 billion of that amount reflects the loss of productivity as a result of illnesses (USDHHS, 1999).
Productivity losses associated with employees who have chronic illness are estimated to be as much as 400 percent more costly than the cost of treating the illness itself (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2009). Productivity loss included, disability, unplanned absences, reduced workplace effectiveness, increased accidents, negative customer service interactions and reduced work quality.
Absenteeism and the decreased productivity of presenteeism (working while ill) create workplace disruption and rack up covert, indirect costs, including the cost of:
- Disrupted workflow
- Extra supervisory time required
- Overtime pay for other employees who must compensate for absenteeism
- Training other employees to fill in for the absent worker
- Negative morale impact on other employees
Workplace disruption can tack on up to an additional 150 percent to the already-costly employee disability price tag. The industry rule of thumb is that for every $1 of disability claim paid out, there’s an associated cost of $1.50 for workplace disruption. That’s an astronomical indirect cost that can be easy for employers to overlook.
But here’s the thing: 75 percent of health care spending is attributable to illnesses that are preventable (CDC, 2002). One meta-analysis of workplace illness prevention and wellness programs found that for every dollar spent on the wellness program, medical costs dropped by about $3.27, and absenteeism costs dropped by about US $2.73 (Baicker, et al, 2010).
It seems safe to conclude that the hidden cost of untreated stress-related disorders far outweighs the cost of treatment.
Sahaja Meditation as a Stepping Stone to Workplace Wellness
Organizations are beginning to realize that workplace health strategies must address the unique problems of individuals and that individual-orientated stress interventions, such as meditation, are a simple but effective strategy for promoting good health in the workplace. But which form of meditation is most effective for relieving occupational stress?
One Australian workplace study measured the impact of meditation on work-related stress, anxiety and mood in 178 random full-time workers over an 8-week period. The baseline assessment indicated that the participants as a whole were experiencing considerably more mental distress than the general population. None of the participants had experienced recent major life events (e.g/ bereavement) or had any serious psychological or psychiatric conditions; nor were had they used any stress management, meditation or relaxation strategy within the past 12 weeks.
Sahaja meditation’s thoughtless awareness was compared to a relaxation model of meditation and a waiting list (no treatment) control group to determine whether thoughtless awareness mediation might have a specific effect on workplace stress (Manocha, R., et al, 2011). The meditation groups participated in 1-hour evening sessions twice weekly and practiced at home twice daily in 10- to 20-minute sessions.
All participants were assessed before (baseline assessment) and after (post-intervention) the 8-week program, using standard measurements of worker stress and intervention effectiveness: the Psychological Strain Questionnaire (PSQ), a subscale of the larger Occupational Stress Inventory (OSI), the State component of the State/Trait Anxiety Inventory for Adults (STAI), and the Depression-Dejection (DD) subscale of the Profile of Mood States (POMS).
Sahaja meditation was found to be the most effective approach for relieving occupational stress and improving workplace health. The Sahaja meditation group showed a statistically significant improvement in occupational stress, a highly significant improvement in depressive symptoms and some improvement in state anxiety. (Statistical significance translates to an improvement of 30 percent or more.)
This study was limited in that it did not include a follow-up assessment to determine whether participants continued using the meditation intervention and how long the effects of an 8-week meditation training program would last. But the study did find measurable, clinically relevant differences between Sahaja meditation and relaxation meditation. The “thought reduction” or “mental silence” state intrinsic to Sahaja meditation was found to have specific effects on work stress and occupational health that could not be attributed to relaxation or placebo effect. There was no significant improvement in the relaxation group, compared to the no treatment group. The researchers concluded that Sahaja meditation, and by inference, possibly any meditation technique that is specifically thoughtless awareness-oriented, is a safe, practical and effective intervention strategy for dealing with work stress and depressive feelings. They also noted that Sahaja meditation’s effectiveness for a group of people with “demonstrably higher levels of psychological distress than the average population” strongly suggested that Sahaja meditation can be a practical strategy in the “real world,” for everyone.
One structural brain imaging studies of Sahaja meditation have found increased gray matter volume in both right and left hemispheric brain regions involved in sustained attention, cognitive control, emotional control, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and feelings of empathy and compassion toward others (Hernández et al, 2016). Increased gray matter volume is associated with enhanced functioning in the corresponding areas.
Another EEG study of long-term Sahaja practitioners found that the practice of Sahaja may foster frontal lobe mediated top-down emotional regulation and attention control (Reva et al, 2014), which would ultimately reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and improve productivity and workplace relationships.
Why Was Sahaja Meditation the Most Effective Intervention for Workplace Stress?
The techniques of Sahaja meditation function as a regulatory mechanism for thoughts and emotions, which allows us to effectively, skillfully respond to challenges. Thoughtless awareness increases emotional resilience (Aftanas, et al, 2005). We become better at managing environmental stressors, particularly in demanding, high-pressure environments.
In the clinical community, meditation is commonly thought to reduce stress through a combination of two pathways: 1) It reduces somatic arousal (physiological effects), thereby reducing our reactivity to environmental stressors; 2) It alters our cognitive appraisal and interpretation of stressors, as well as our sense of their ability to deal with them. The positive cognitive-behavioral effects of the aforementioned Sahaja study were believed to result from the meditator’s increased awareness of how thoughts and emotions arise in response to various environmental events. This enhanced awareness improved their overall vitality and coping skills, reduced negative emotions, and allowed them to perceive situations realistically and solve problems effectively. When people believe that they can control or manage negative events, they cope more effectively and experience fewer effects of stress.
Shifting the Emotional Set Point
A study of 48 employees at Promega, a high-pressure Madison, Wisconsin biotech company, found that mindfulness meditation enlarged the participants’ left prefrontal cortex, an area known to be associated with increased positive emotion (Davidson, R., Kabat-Zinn, J., 2003). Participants meditated for 3 hours once a week for eight weeks. Meditation shifted their emotions ratio significantly leftward toward positive emotion and they were able to detach from their emotional reactions and respond with equanimity to sources of stress. They reported improved mood, feeling more engaged at work, more energized, and less anxious — all of which was supported by their brain scan results. What’s more, these benefits persisted at three-month follow-up. It seems that their set point had changed.
Meditation was also found to increase immune system robustness, as measured by the amount of flu antibodies in their blood after receiving a flu shot. Other studies have suggested that people who practice mindfulness meditation and are exposed to a flu virus will experience less severe symptoms (Davidson, R., Kabat-Zinn, J., 2003). In fact, the study found that the greater the leftward shift in emotional set point, the larger the increase in immunity.
What other performance-enhancing mental health benefits does Sahaja Meditation provide?
The first obvious benefit of Sahaja meditation is increased emotional resilience (Aftanas, et al, 2005).
We become better at managing environmental stressors, particularly in demanding, high-pressure environments. And because Sahaja enhances creativity, focus, and problem-solving skills, our decision-making ability and overall performance is greatly enhanced. Your ability to think clearly and “think on your feet” improves. Resilience conquers obstacles that keep you from doing your best work.
Sahaja meditation motivates us to improve productivity.
You begin to look inward for answers, and by focusing on your own strengths and weaknesses, are directed towards constructive ideas and real, productive output rather than stooping to corporate politics or getting caught up in unhealthy competitions. You don’t fall prey to professional jealousy or the need to constantly compare yourself to others. You don’t waste time and energy trying to outdo everybody else or manipulate circumstances to make others look less effective than you.
Meditation, over time, can have a significant impact on a person’s overall evolution and maturity. You become more focused on offering tangible value and contributing to achievement of the organization’s goals. You’re not one of those high maintenance employees, the constant complainer who is constantly seeking raises, promotions, or better working conditions.
Sahaja meditation helps instills contentment and happiness from within and promotes optimism and positive thinking.
This helps build an inner confidence that you will be successful at work and banish distracting, self-damaging fears and anxiety, such as a fear of unknown or unpredictable results. You’re better able to manage change dynamically and confidently. You develop confidence in your skills and abilities, so, for example, it becomes much easier to confidently and persuasively make presentations to an audience. And freeing your mind from stressful thoughts through meditation frees more of your energy to enjoy your work, as well as all the other good things that life has to offer.
Sahaja meditation can help build and enhance professional relationships.
Your communication skills and empathy for others improves. Your analytical skills and ability to analyze and interpret problems is enhanced. Relationship skills improve, which strengthens conflict resolution skills and makes relationship building with peers, customers and supervisors easier. You become a better team player. And you get better at infusing the spirit of good teamwork in others, which enhances the entire team’s productivity. So people who have difficulty building relationships, or those used to working alone, ultimately find it easier and more fulfilling to work with a team.
Sahaja meditation acts as a natural energy recharge and replenishment mechanism.
This automatically helps regenerate interest and motivation to perform work. Meditation improves our ability to “bounce back from tiredness quickly” and “take shorter recharge breaks.” We can give more to the organization by working longer and smarter. In depressed patients, both at baseline and at 3-month follow-up, loss of energy was found to strongly correlate with days off from work, an increased number of days in bed, reduced work productivity, and diminished social functioning (Swindle et al., 2001).
Sahaja meditation is, at its very essence, about harnessing the power of our untapped energy. Sahaja techniques awaken and influence the flow of energy and allow us to achieve the powerful state of thoughtless awareness.
When thoughtless awareness is experienced on a daily basis, it can enhance creativity, problem-solving ability and productivity by relieving stress and increasing energy levels. Performed continuously over months or years, meditation may ultimately make work seem like vacation by giving the practitioner a built-in, long-term strategy for managing stressors.
Organizations, not to mention health insurers, are starting to realize that meditation enhances qualities they desire in their human capital and that meditation, much like preventive health and exercise programs, can actually help them control costs. Herbert Benson, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute, has said: “If businesses were clever, what they would do is simply put time aside and have a quiet room for people to carry out a meditative behavior of their choice.”
Perhaps corporate meditation programs — and the Quiet Room — will someday simply become a standard part of American corporate culture. Companies currently offering on-the-job meditation programs include: Apple, Prentice Hall Publishing, Google, Nike, AOL Time Warner, McKinsey & Company, Yahoo!, Deutsche Bank, Proctor & Gamble, and HBO.
Since Sahaja meditation is a safe, health-enhancing strategy and training programs are always free, employers may find it to be a practical, proactive approach to managing stress-related illnesses in the workplace. Healthier, happier employees translates to a healthier bottom line.
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