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Mindfulness for researchers: an approach for a healthier, more productive career

9 December 2019

Learn a step-by-step approach for practicing mindfulness as a scientist in the new Researcher Academy module

Claudio Colaiacoma uses this cartoon by Doug Neil (thegraphicrecorder.com(opens in new tab/window)) in his mindfulness module for Elsevier’s Researcher Academy. Being a researcher can sometimes feel overwhelming. Hyper competitive work environment, funding and pressure to deliver results are some of the factors that can affect researcher’s wellbeing

It’s important to have control over our lives and feelings, so people seek different stress relief tools. Individual stress management can include many strategies depending on the personality type and particular situations. These strategies include learning better time management skills, making more time for relaxation, developing psychological resilience – and mindfulness.

Mindfulness is particularly a popular practice because it changes the wiring of our brains and allows us to manage stress in a better and more efficient way.

To continue guiding researchers towards a healthier life and career, Elsevier’s Researcher Academy has developed a new module(opens in new tab/window) for mindfulness, presented by Claudio Colaiacomo(opens in new tab/window), a mindfulness expert who serves as VP of Academic Relations at Elsevier. In this module, Claudio covers the fundamentals of mindfulness and how to implement this powerful practice into the daily life of a researcher.

Here are the main takeaways from the module:

What is mindfulness?

The modern mindfulness is the brainchild of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn(opens in new tab/window), an American professor emeritus of medicine. He defines it as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

In simpler terms, mindfulness helps sustain attention to feelings, emotions and thoughts in the present moment without getting carried away by them. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, and from an ancient tradition, it has evolved into a modern mind training. It is a quality that some people possess naturally, but it can also be trained and improved. Mindfulness is the bridge in between our mind and present moment that helps us understand and better react to stressful, overwhelming situations.

Benefits of mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that can help with improving wellbeing in terms of physical and mental health. From the physical point of view, mindfulness training can help with stress relief, lowering blood pressure, reducing pain and improving sleep. Mindfulness gives people a larger perspective on life, clear thinking and patience. Our minds don’t have switch off buttons for unwanted thoughts; however, it is possible to train yourself to control them. Systematic training improves focus attention and concentration. It results in having more energy to become fully engaged in important activities of everyday life instead of getting carried away by worries and intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation helps develop better resilience and can help people recover faster from tension and stress.

Scientific foundation

Research on mindfulness has been expanding rapidly in the last decades. The evidence for the benefits of mindfulness is promising and proven in several trials with clinical and social applications.

People have their mind wandering almost 50 percent of the time they are awake. That means their mind is not where their body is; instead, they’re thinking about things that happened in the past, could happen in the future or might never happen at all – all while being involved in many other daily tasks. Evidence suggests that a wandering mind leads to unhappiness(opens in new tab/window).

However, the brain can be trained to sustain focus and attention in the present moment. Introducing mindfulness training in daily routines has the potential to improve(opens in new tab/window) mental and overall health treatment outcomes.

Clinical applications of the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) have proven to be effective in several studies and trials. Researchers report that MBCT can decrease the severity(opens in new tab/window) of depression symptoms of currently depressed patients in just eight weeks. A number of trials show a positive effect of mindfulness on brain changes and immune responsivity, and even influence the healing process of skin diseases related to psychological stress. (Read more reports here(opens in new tab/window).) In the context of mental health, mindfulness encourages people to develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship(opens in new tab/window) with their own thoughts and feelings.

Approach

There are many mindfulness techniques, but all of them focus on the same: paying attention and accepting your thoughts on purpose, without judgement. You can practice mindfulness where and when you want; it doesn’t necessarily need to be a lengthy process and can take a couple of minutes – on your break from work, for example.

Mindfulness starts with posture. You can choose whether you want to sit comfortably, lay down or even walk, but you need to have your back straight. You continue with breathing exercises and scanning your body. By focusing on your physical sensations, you can switch to focusing on sensory aspects as sounds, smells and touches. It’s important to observe the feelings and thoughts you’re having without judgement and let them go.

This focusing exercise is just an example of many meditation techniques. Guided mediations are popular and can be easily accessed on many resources online. Below is an example of the stages of the path provided by Claudio.

Mindfulness for researchers

Learn more about how mindfulness to reduce stress and improve work-life balance in this new module in Elsevier’s Researcher Academy(opens in new tab/window).

Researcher Academy(opens in new tab/window) is a free e-learning platform for career-related guidance. New monthly modules can be accessed for free on their website(opens in new tab/window). Then you can ask questions and discuss the webinar in the dedicated Mendeley group(opens in new tab/window), where the team will help you find answers.

Claudio Colaiacomo

Claudio Colaiacomo