By Bilberry Bloom, Dec 15 2015 07:00AM
In a quest for a solution to reduce workplace stress and absenteeism, are companies in danger of looking to mindfulness as ‘a one size fits all’ solution?
Recently there has been an explosion in popularity and awareness of mindfulness meditation and its use in the work place.
However, on the flip side there are also suggestions that mindfulness is not for everyone; a recent article, by Anna Hart, The Telegraph¹, writes about a possible mindfulness backlash and makes the point that perhaps mindfulness isn’t for everyone and adopting mindfulness meditation isn’t as straight forward and a ‘cure all’ that corporates would like it to be. Additionally, Lisa Nirell; The Future of Work², suggests that perhaps mindfulness is dangerously close to joining the ranks of “corporate buzzword bingo”. Whatever, your take on this it is hard to ignore the growing base of scientific evidence, some 500 papers published each year, but as companies formulate their health and wellbeing programmes shouldn’t they be offering choice and fulfilling their commitment to ‘inclusion and diversity.’
Arts based activities a viable alternative to mindfulness.
The beauty of arts based activities is that you don’t have to be ‘arty or theatrical’ to enjoy doing something creative and, if you are enjoying what you are doing, you will naturally experience ‘flow’. In other words you don’t have to master it to achieve it, unlike many forms of meditation.
What is ‘flow’?
Flow is a point in time when our attention is focused solely on a present or existing activity; we are totally absorbed to a state of complete immersion – being in the moment. This is something that most of us experience when we are actively involved in something we enjoy, for example sport, cooking, painting, writing and dancing or simply colouring-in pictures from a colouring book.
In a 2007 paper, The Neurological Basis of Occupation, Schindler VP and co-author Gutman SA³ argue that people could learn to use activities such as drawing or painting to elicit flow, which would offer a non-pharmaceutical way to regulate strong emotions such as anger or prevent irrational thoughts. Specifically, it was found that music, drawing, meditation, reading, arts and crafts, and home repairs, for example, can stimulate the neurological system and enhance health and wellbeing.
Being in the ‘moment’ and finding a point of focus for the mind, one could argue, that although elements of practicing mindfulness meditation they are also a state of mind naturally experienced when being creative or making a piece of art; reaching a point of total immersion and experiencing ‘flow’ - sometimes called zone.
The value of arts activities in health and wellbeing is widely documented and long been used in many health conditions, social settings, hospitals, schools and community environments all over the world; in some states in America arts activities, such as music and painting are prescribed as part of palliative care; to assist pain relief, for patients nearing the end of life.
Anne Bolwerk and colleagues in a 2014 study⁴ found that people participating in the production of visual art showed greater propensity to cope with mental stress. This recent study is amongst the very first to demonstrate the neural effects of visual art production on psychological resilience in adulthood.
Considering workplace absenteeism caused through stress related illness is still high; according to a YouGov survey commissioned by The Mental Health Foundation, 46% of workers struggle to switch off from work and 29% of people either always or often feel stressed, it would seem prudent for companies to accommodate a ‘mix’ of initiatives
in their health and wellbeing strategy. Although this could possibly make scoping a programme for health and wellbeing all the more challenging it could ultimately prove more effective long term by offering more choice in preventative solutions.
Jacqui Simpson 2015
 Bolwerk A, Mack-Andrick J, Lang F, Dorfler A, Maihofner C. How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. PLoS One 2104. 9:7. Accessed 18.09.2014.
 Gutman SA, Schindler VP. The neurological basis of occupation. Occup Ther Int.2007;14(2):71-85.