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Meditation: how it can reduce anxiety and improve sleep

4-minute read

Meditation: it can reduce anxiety and improve sleep
Susan Peacock

Susan Peacock

17 May 2023

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Taking time to be ‘present’ in your day can reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Here, chartered psychologist and mindfulness trainer, Susan Peacock, shares her expert tips on using meditation to help you thrive as a small business owner.

Simply Business has partnered with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by Mind, to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing.

Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and end the stigma surrounding mental health at work through our Mind Your Business initiative.

Stress is familiar territory for a small business owner like me. On the rollercoaster of uncertainty, you worry when work is abundant. How do you make it all happen? You worry when the work goes quiet. And when you face personal criticism, you may have to navigate it on your own.

But what really depletes people isn’t stress itself – it’s a lack of recovery time. Stress is part of life and can serve us well: we become more focused and get things done.

Not taking time to recharge is where the problems begin. Think of your phone – if you don’t charge the battery, it doesn’t work.

Build pauses into your day

This isn’t just about extended periods of time to relax. Recovery doesn’t only mean days away from work, but small pauses as you navigate each day. Weaving moments of recovery into busy days is key to help you recharge.

Paradoxically, the busier we are, the less time we feel we have for recovery. This is often a myth. We all have spaces in our days like waiting for the kettle to boil or for a colleague to join a meeting – we just need to notice them.

For example, you could give someone your full attention rather than multitasking, or take in your surroundings as you walk from one meeting to another.

A simple STOP practice can lead to a far more effective and engaged day:

  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Take a breath
  • Observe what is here now
  • Proceed with awareness

I see how important this is when we measure clients’ heart rate variability (HRV) during busy working days. A small device tracks the fluctuation in time between heart beats over a three-day period, while clients keep a diary.

When people take those moments to recover, we see how they top up their resources. They connect with their ‘rest and digest mode’ – the opposite of ‘fight or flight’ mode, rather than having the foot on the accelerator all the time.

Like Formula One racers driving at up to 220 miles per hour, they can only perform at these speeds because they have pit stops where they fully recharge before hurtling off down the long straights again.

Examples of this in your busy days might include focused time on a proposal or design, or it could be a relaxed but fully focused and engaged meeting with colleagues or clients.

How mindfulness can help

By recovery we mean being fully engaged and alert whilst also feeling relaxed and at ease. Research at the Jaume I University in Spain supports this.

As you become more self-aware, you notice when you’re feeling stressed or anxious and this results in you prioritising moments of recovery. This enables you to step out of the constant ‘doing’ and into a ‘being’ mode.

Mindfulness underpins this process and can be described as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.

With regular meditation, we can build the muscle of focus and attention, so we can draw on it in everyday life.

We become better able to pause and, in doing so, we respond with greater awareness and skill. As the concentration camp survivor and bestselling author Victor Frankl put it in 1946: “Between the stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space lies our freedom and power to choose our responses. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Supporting a good night’s sleep

Another common struggle is sleep. About one in three people report sleep difficulties, according to the NHS. And our research shows that a difficulty sleeping might be affecting SMEs disproportionately, with 44 per cent of sharing that they struggle with sleep.

Accepting that we can impact our sleep through simple everyday habits can be hugely empowering. Becoming more aware of these effective behaviours can nudge us in the direction of a better night’s sleep.

Regularly taking a minute to STOP in the day and notice our surroundings can support a good night’s sleep, the findings of HRV monitoring suggest.

Exposure to natural light by walking outside in the morning helps set a strong circadian rhythm, which promotes healthy sleep.

Exercise is also linked to stress reduction and physical wellbeing, both of which could aid better sleep.

While not everyone is affected in the same way, using devices during the hour before bed is found to have a detrimental impact on sleep. The Sleep Foundation 2023 recommends avoiding active use of devices for 90 minutes before bed, Ideally allowing a winding down period before going to sleep.

Calm a racing mind

The best way to deal with those moments when you wake up at 2am and can’t get back to sleep is to focus on your breathing.

This reconnects you with the ‘rest and digest mode,’ which is far more likely to help you get back to sleep rather than becoming caught up in overthinking.

And even if you don’t go back to sleep immediately, fully relaxing is far more restorative than a whirring mind.

Susan Peacock – Chartered Psychologist and Mindfulness Trainer

Susan established LiveWorkWell in 2011 to support leaders and teams flourish in work and life through resilience and mindfulness programmes. LiveWorkWell partners with visionary companies like Publicis Groupe, Knight Frank, Boston Consultancy Group, News UK and Simply Business, so their people can engage fully and sustainably in the always-on business world. Her passion is to support people to perform at their best by enhancing their resilience, effectiveness and relationships.

“Having spent the first 10 years of my career at international advertising agencies, I saw how vital resilience is in fast-paced environments. To help others maintain balance in work and life, I became a Chartered Psychologist — now with more than 15 years’ experience — and trained as a mindfulness trainer, coach and organisational change consultant.”

More resources for small businesses

Visit Mental Health at Work's dedicated Self-Employed Support Hub for toolkits, resources and powerful stories to help improve workplace wellbeing.

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Photo: fizkes/
Susan Peacock

Written by

Susan Peacock

Susan is a Chartered Psychologist with more than 15 years’ experience, and a qualified mindfulness trainer, coach, and organisational change consultant. She established LiveWorkWell in 2011 to support leaders and teams flourish in work and life through resilience and mindfulness programmes.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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