Mindfulness: What is all the hype & how does it fit into the WC space?

Look around in any industry, self-help arena, or in overall life improvement and you will find the topic of Mindfulness. There are books, apps, retreats, podcasts, pretty much any medium you can access covering this topic. In the workers’ compensation industry, we have started to see an influx in how to assist with injured workers and how to help ourselves. So what’s the hype and why does this matter?

The Concept of Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be found in a plethora of avenues as it is going to matter for you on a specific basis. For some, it may be going to the gym while others prefer to sit in meditation. If the thought of meditation makes you cringe, think outside the box. Reading a book, practicing yoga, going for a run, all can be different forms of finding intentional time to sit with yourself. The power behind mindfulness stems from the most important component, reflection.

Creating Habits

The idea behind making mindfulness a habit in our daily lives shows many health benefits. A great place to start begins with figuring out what you want within your life. Take an analysis of things you are happy with and things you would like to change. What type of habits do you think would improve your life? Starting with what you would like to add in or achieve? The next step after figuring out your list is to determine what you think and what you feel.

The human brain has two components: the thinking brain and the feeling brain. These two components make up what some consider ‘self-control’. The thinking brain is rooted in logic, reason, conscious thought, and calculations. The feeling brain emerges through emotions, impulses, intuition, and instinct.

Why does this matter when looking at habit? Let’s take a look at exercise. For example, you would like to workout more but hate going to the gym. What is it about the gym that you hate? Is it the workout you do when you go to the gym? Lack of education behind what you should be doing at the gym? Do you feel frumpy in the clothes you put on to be seen at the gym? Dive into the aspects you dislike and take a deeper look inside to figure out how to get your feeling brain to jive with your thinking brain. Your thinking brain knows it is good to exercises. Your feeling brain is overpowering your thinking brain by building up this sense of hatred for going to the gym.

Now take a step back. What do you like to do for movement? Do you like to dance? Do you feel strong after you lift weights? Do you like socializing? Take a few moments for reflection to figure out the root cause of the icky feelings towards the gym. Taking this step will help you determine how to build a plan to make your thinking brain and your feeling brain sync to find an optimal outcome. The human body was designed for movement. What movements sets your heart on fire and brings out joy? If you typically go to the gym to get on a treadmill and hate every moment of it, STOP DOING IT. Find things that make you happy that also increase endorphins. Trying new things can be scary but if you find something you like, it becomes worth it!

Group exercise may or may not be your thing but if you like to socialize and need the accountability, this can be a helpful pathway to increase your commitment. You take a look inside to reflect on what works for you, then build a plan. Get some workout clothes that make you feel good, participate in activity you find enjoyable, and find a way to get yourself to commit. You owe it to yourself to start showing up.

Creating a happy space for the mind to go can increase the likelihood you going to the gym will continue and thus, you are on your way to building a pathway to habit as well as rewriting your neuropathways. Start with day one, let it continue to build. It has been said habits are formed at day 21. Stick with it. Talk nicely to yourself and build the continuous commitment to achieve by day 67. Your brain will continue the habit but will no longer need the thought process behind getting the decisions made to get to the gym as it will now become instinct.

Making this work for you

Retraining the mind takes work; however, it will improve the quality of your life and help you move forward to uncover what is next for you. It has been said to rewire the brain and change the neuropathways within our own make up can take 67 days. If the thought of taking 67 days in a row instantly makes you cringe, take this in bitesize pieces like described above.

Making this work for you can depend a lot with how you speak to yourself. When you look in the mirror as you get ready in the morning, what do you say? There is a lot of power in how you speak to yourself. Do you give yourself a pep talk in the morning? Are you going to have a great day? Do you exit your bathroom in the morning ready to take on the world or are you simply going through the motions? Maya Angelou once said “Life loves the liver of it.” How are you living life? Are you loving it? Or just passing through? Take stock of acknowledging the messages you give to yourself. Reframe you mind. THIS IS A POWERFUL TOOL.

There is also a lot of power in acknowledging your inner critic. Name your inner critic! Self-doubt and sabotage are a real thing. By recognizing your inner voice and addressing it as a person, you are able to consciously acknowledge unfavorable thoughts to your growth and development. The next step is to reframe these blips to reduce the frequency, the impact, and move forward in a positive mindset. Again, no one is saying this work is easy, but it is worth it.

How to apply this to the WC space

How does this apply to the workers’ compensation space? Think of our injured workers and the involvement we have to help them apply these skills. If we are able to take little bits and pieces of this mind-retraining to improve how we approach life, we are then able to transfer this knowledge to those with whom we have influence. It is easy to understand how an injured worker can end up in a darkened mind space. The toll of being physically injured does weigh on the mental side of things but we can help.

Physical therapists have a substantial amount of influence in the mind-retraining space of injured workers. They spend a lot of time with the injured worker, build a relationship based on consistency in appointments, and trust as a result of being part of the medical community. They are also part of the injured worker’s recovery team. If an injured worker is isolated as the result of their injury, physical therapists are able to identify this through their ongoing interactions and offer suggestions of how to combat this.

For example, Joe comes in for a shoulder injury. He feels isolated as he is not at work with his social circle and does not have much support from his family/home life. He seems sadder, distant, and down. While he might not communicate this to his adjuster, he may open up more so to his physical therapist. The physical therapist may offer some suggestions on how to reach out to a family member of influence or get out of the house to go have coffee with a friend. The check in value of asking Joe if he did this at his next appointment is where the accountability, trust, and relationship increase. If Joe does not follow up on the suggestion, why not? LISTEN. Make the ask… Help him buy into committing to himself during this time to be a functional, contributing member of his own recovery team.

How to take this to the next level, involve the adjuster and the employer. If one of the members of the injured worker’s recovery team notices the negative headspace formation, let the rest of the team know so a plan can be formed, the injured worker can be educated, and there are accountability check points along the way. Having multiple people from different arenas in this process shows care, compassion, and empathy through the importance of making an effort to help someone through a difficult and challenging time. While this type of communication may seem excessive, it not only is the right thing to do, I have yet to hear an attorney tell me the injured worker became represented because of over communication.

Claire Muselman is a speaker on Mindfulness and was recently featured at the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation Mindfulness Retreat in January in St. Petersburg, Florida. You can catch her Fridays at 11:00 am CST on the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation’s Common Grounds Zoom Events.