Practise mindfulness to beat stress

The new year is not all happiness. With new technologies and new ways of working, it also promises more pressure in people's lives.

Some practise "mindfulness" as a way to deal with stress.

But what is it? And how does one apply it?

Dr Jochen Reb, associate professor of organisational behaviour & human resources at Singapore Management University (SMU), said there is no single definition for the term.

"Mindfulness refers to a certain quality of attention - a present-centred, open and accepting attention", which contrasts with a mind that wanders constantly, thinking of the past or worrying about the future.

"Mindful attention", he said, can be developed through practice.

Dr Reb, who has done research on the subject for more than 10 years, said anyone can practise mindfulness anywhere at any time, "as it is fundamentally about being openly present".

There are courses in Singapore for those who want to learn the concept. For example, the Mindfulness Initiative @ SMU offers a variety of courses. Some of them are open to the public.

Dr Reb said the most well- researched and best-known mindfulness programmes are in cognitive therapy and stress reduction.

However, he added, there are some misconceptions about mindfulness.

Firstly, there is its association with religion. "Some people think that mindfulness is connected to a religious, often Buddhist, belief," he said.

"It's important to recognise that courses do not require or promote any particular religious belief, nor are they incompatible with or discourage religious beliefs."

He said some people think that mindfulness is suitable only for those with serious mental health issues.

"However, the reality is that many of us are stressed and feel overwhelmed by the demands on our attention and time. We want to relate better to others or just to live life more fully."

Many mindfulness programmes are designed for "regular" people. Dr Reb said, however, that it is important to choose instructors who are qualified.

Though the evidence for mindfulness is strong, he added, it cannot be guaranteed to work for everyone and there are other things that people can do for their well-being.

These activities include regular physical activity, taking walks and pursuing a hobby.

Jose Hong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline 'Practise mindfulness to beat stress'. Print Edition | Subscribe