The world has changed. Today, modern managers not only run marathons, climb mountains or bike to work – they participate in conscious breathing seminars, look after their nutrition and meditate.
While the world is fighting against viruses, searching for yet another news about crashing aeroplanes, ecological catastrophes, and listening to new statements by Greta Thunberg, there are more and more talks that the humankind will be destroyed not by diseases, wars or global warming, but by simple never-ending stress.
Being always better, more productive, more efficient, constantly generating more original ideas – these are the working conditions familiar to many of us, especially those involved in the creative industries. This is why it is not such a surprise anymore when people suddenly quit their interesting and well-paid jobs and leave to Asia to work in a beach bar or to pet endangered chimpanzees in the jungle. It sounds like an adventure, but in fact, most cases hide chronic fatigue and burnout, which no one can bear anymore. The only way is to escape.
Vytautas Ratkevičius, founder of Bardo Arca, a commercialised science start-up that has been researching stress and its sources for almost a decade, says: “In the near future, we will inevitably have to find a way to limit the sources of stress, and those, who are already taking care of it, will gain an advantage. It is no surprise that people have started talking about Mindfulness, a revolution of attentive mastering, that has evolved from a niche method only known to psychologists, into a multi-million dollar industry.
It is true that, although businesses in the Western world perceive Mindfulness as great potential and successfully implement it, V. Ratkevičius says that for Lithuanians, concepts such as meditation, especially in the work environment, are still far too alternative and are viewed sceptically. However, he has an answer to this issue as well – if the methodology is not adapted, but merely transferred from one culture to another, it will not bring results that are important to the business.
Having gathered a team of specialists from various fields, in recent years, Vytautas and his colleagues have been designing spaces for businesses and other institutions, which are suitable for mindfulness practices, stress reduction and the release of creative and intellectual skills.
They were inspired to research mindfulness possibilities and the best conditions for practising it by the process gamification tendency and researches in this field that reached Lithuania 7-8 years ago.
“We have seen that many companies have started gamification of their work processes to increase employee efficiency, but have not delved deeper into how and in what situations these methods work. We focused on the content of gamification rather than the technical tools. We realised that with screens and sensors alone, even the most innovative ones, we would not achieve the desired effect without appropriate methodology and content. Therefore, we decided to take a deeper look at gamification, and this gave us a chance also to explore the factors that cause stress in a workplace,” the specialist says.
Around 2014, the team began research to determine what type of irritant stress is, what causes it and, of course, how to avoid it. Then, the Times printed a number with the headline on its cover: “The mindful revolution now”. According to Vytautas, then he realised that the field of interest where the team was conducting research means the future and that the door to an enormous market has been opened for all services related to Mindfulness.
The field of ongoing research has been very broad, exploring different mindfulness techniques, methods, and testing them all individually. The preparation was serious – the research was done using neuroscanners, practical tasks, and reflection interviews.
“We analysed a lot, why it is so difficult for Mindfulness practices to root in our country. Step by step, we identified what was completely unsuitable to Lithuanians and where there were points in common with even geographically distant cultures. We walked Camino de Santiago, studied the traditions of Tibetan and Mongolian monks. We wished to compare them and discovered some interesting repetitive things. The most striking one is cyclicality. Also, the elements of Lithuanian lamentation, which are very stress-relieving, repeats in many ancient cultures, starting with Tibet,“ shares the founder of Bardo Arca.
Some queer things were also discovered during the researches. For example, the lotus pose, often inseparable from meditation, is difficult to apply to Lithuanians for simple reasons: “To our body structure this position is very unusual and uncomfortable because of the length of the muscles and fascia, and the word “meditation” itself in the subconscious of a Lithuanian does not associate with relaxation because it is completely new and unfamiliar. Therefore, the consciousness of a Lithuanian sitting in the lotus pose is constantly trying to calm the aching body instead of diving into the state of complacency and relaxation, which is the purpose of meditation.”
After refining the basic principles and integrating the individual Mindfulness systems into a methodological complex, the idea was born to create a physical space – a room of transitions from one state (stressful, preventing clear perception) to another (providing opportunities for relaxation and self-realisation).
“Two key components are important for such a transition space – sensory restriction and sensory stimulation. By limiting our usual external irritants and relaxing the body’s vestibular system, the conditions are created for new stimuli, which, depending on the needs (by using different stimuli and methodologies), can help to calm down or activate creative powers, sharpen minds and their reactions,” says V. Ratkevičius.
It sounds mysterious, but everything is quite simple: specific sounds (for example, forest or bird sounds, so familiar to Lithuanians), particular smells and touching senses are activated in a room that isolates external sounds and other irritants, including electromagnetic sounds.
Many elements of such spaces indeed exist in the new modern real estate neighbourhoods: the green areas, sunbeds, wooden floors, etc. Elements of biophilic design are found in the entire city, and the major trend-predicting agencies are talking about their growing demand.
Speaking about business, stress is one of the main factors which limits employee productivity and creativity, therefore, removing or at least limiting stress would undoubtedly benefit businesses not only financially but also demonstrate social responsibility to its employees, assure appropriate working conditions and emotional climate.
“In my opinion, such relaxation spaces are not only necessary to an office or a business centre, but should also be located next to our schools, hospitals, and other public facilities,” says Vytautas and adds that in financial terms, the additional investment would be required. But it is not so high, because the payback starts in the first year.
“The size of the investment depends on the extent and phase of the office or business centre installation, where the mindfulness solutions are desired to be implemented. It is optimal to anticipate them before the construction of the office, when the premises can still be planned, to choose appropriate architectural solutions. According to various calculations, the costs of installations of offices, orientated to stress reduction, can be 10-15% higher than usual. However, according to our estimates, payback can be calculated in less than a year,” says the CEO of start-up Bardo Arca.
Employees with stress-reducing solutions miss fewer days at work because of illnesses, are more productive, more creative, and the products they create have higher added value. This benefit is even more seen in creative organisations, where the performance of employees largely depends on stress management.
Ratkevičius emphasises that one should not think that a person can fully limit the sources of stress and progress as a personality. Stress is not bad; only the excess of it.
“The state of stress itself is greatly influenced by changes and inert human resistance towards them. Changes are related to uncertainty and the latter, to a feeling of insecurity. If changes become a constant condition in a working environment, the person enters a state of constant stress. Creators are constantly required to take a new approach, think outside of the box, follow unexplored paths. The pressure that comes from the environment is applied to ourselves. Then there are different ways to come out of stress – drugs, alcohol, the search for extreme sensations. However, no one really teaches how to get out of stress sustainably without damaging the physical and mental health of the body,” says Vytautas.
ll the biggest countries and the World Health Organisation have raised the issue of stress, and one can only hope that the topic of stress management solutions will become clearer in the upcoming years. Vytautas also believes that this project implemented together with psychologists, anthropologists and the scientists from VU and VGTU will bring tangible results by transforming the world (or at least Lithuania) into a less stressful place.