CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Stressed-out councillors urged to meditate for ten minutes a day

Councillors closed their eyes in the Town Hall chamber and tried out Mindfulness

25 November, 2016 — By Richard Osley

Members tried out Mindfulness techniques at the Town Hall on Monday

STRESSED-OUT councillors and officers at the Town Hall are being urged to spend 10 minutes a day in meditation sessions in a bid to calm their racing emotions.

Two-thirds of Camden’s elected local politicians – including some of the borough’s most senior councillors – gathered in the council chamber to be shown how the practice of “Mindfulness” worked on Monday evening.

The technique, based on Buddhist meditation, is aimed at preventing people from overreacting to events in their working life and improving their attention.

Some schools in Camden have begun using it as a soothing tonic for young pupils.

Silence fell inside the chamber and the lights were dimmed as the councillors tried it out after being talked through its benefits by a teacher who has seen successful results from its use at Rhyl Primary School in Kentish  Town.

Councillors were advised that it would help them take a break from screens and technology and be “more present”.

“Often, because of stress and the overload and everything in our lives, it can feel that we are one step behind. We are always looking ahead, and always looking ahead can make us feel really stressed,” the instructor said. “Mindfulness has lots of benefits but the biggest one is being calmer, more relaxed and more in control.”

The session was set up ahead of the regular all-member meeting of councillors – often a confrontational session and traditionally soaked in political point-scoring – and saw many of the members close their eyes and follow instructions to clear their mind and let their tension fall to their feet. The councillors who did not shut their eyes were asked to lower their gaze and to “take some tension to your feet, and feeling your feet on the ground, just notice what that feels like”.

The group meditation session was set up by Camden mayor Nadia Shah, who is promoting better awareness of mental health during her year as the borough’s first citizen.

She told the New Journal: “I want them to see how it is being used at Rhyl where the pupils are benefiting. If we can get council officers and maybe councillors doing it, it could help them too.”

The use of Mindfulness has enjoyed booming popularity in recent years, and has been used in big city firms to focus the attention of workers employed in frenzied working environments. In schools, there have been reports of calmer behaviour.

Last December, Camden was warned that council staff were facing burnout after being frazzled by the constant use of smartphones, which made them feel they were always at work.

Rachel Stopard, the then deputy chief executive, provided this analysis after a study revealed that one in five sick days at the Town Hall were caused by stress or depression.

Ms Stopard added: “The council needs to be responsive to the digital megatrend that is creating the 24/7 workforce, with employees operating anywhere, anytime, on any device. There is a danger that ‘always on’ may mean that employees are never off.”

 

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