The zen of accounting
For years, Queensland-based accountant Veronica Beilby, 33, was used to sleepless nights. "I suffered from mild insomnia because I couldn’t turn my brain off," she says. "Thoughts and calculations would run through my head and I just couldn’t sleep." Long hours were the norm and if Beilby ever looked like missing a deadline or letting a client down, she’d be crippled by panic attacks.
When a friend suggested she make a 10-minute meditation part of her pre-bed routine, Beilby had no idea how much it would change her life. "It allows me to empty my head of thoughts about work and deadlines so I can have a peaceful sleep," she says.
Beilby now meditates for up to 30 minutes a day and has even undertaken several courses to learn new techniques. "When work gets stressful," she says, "I find a quiet place, close my eyes and meditate for a few minutes before responding to the situation. It gives me better results in work and personal situations."
Train your brain To date, most neuroscience research into the effects of meditation has examined mindfulness meditation, a technique that entails focusing on your senses so you are ‘present’.
"When we get stressed, our attention has usually wandered to the future and is trying to plan 10 steps ahead or it’s in the past, dwelling [on] and regretting stuff," explains Dr Richard Chambers, a clinical psychologist and mindfulness consultant at Melbourne’s Monash University. "Stress really lowers productivity, so mindfulness tells us to focus on one thing at a time."
There are many ways to practise mindfulness: you can concentrate on your breath entering and leaving your body or do a full ‘body scan’, where you focus your attention on different parts of the body in succession. "Mindfulness helps us notice when we are being reactive and brings our attention back to the present, so we can re-engage with what we are doing at that moment," says Dr Chambers.
Meditation has short- and long-term benefits: not only does it make you feel calmer afterwards, it can actually change the functioning of the brain. A US study has found that just 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day for four days is enough to increase people’s short-term memory and improve their executive functioning1.
"Brain science is showing [that] mindfulness starts to change the prefrontal cortex, which controls directing your attention, planning, reasoning, impulses, emotions and empathy," adds Dr Chambers. "Just five minutes a day can create changes in the brain that help us to concentrate and improve our thinking speed and accuracy – all important traits for accountants."