Blog posts

 Should the health influencer ban also include the promotion of mindfulness meditation? A perspective from Psychology

March 1, 2022

In January 2022, in Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) updated its code in relation to social media advertising, which comes into effect later this year. In a nutshell, the TGA states that social media influencers will no longer be able to promote health products through their social media sites in the same way they did before. In particular, influencers are banned from publishing testimonials and offering personal opinions on a product that they have been paid for. This means a change to how influencers promote health products.

Something else which is often advertised and promoted through social media by influencers is mindfulness meditation. Many influencers share their personal experiences and testimonials with meditation and provide information on how to best practice mindfulness as well as definitions of what mindfulness and/or meditation is. 

In recent years, mindfulness has become a bit of a hype term, with many mindfulness programs advertised, including through influencers. But, it can be difficult to ascertain which mindfulness program, practice or app to choose in this mindfulness maze.

A much-cited research article published in 2018 has warned of this “hype” of mindfulness. One of the negative effects of the current popularity of mindfulness meditation is that it is often seen as a panacea, believed to heal all ills.

An issue with mindfulness being seen in this way is that it asks individuals to be solely responsible for their wellbeing, rather than societal systems or dysfunctional organisational contexts. For instance, last year, Amazon installed their Amazon meditation pods as part of enhancing wellbeing in employees. Amazon has been much criticised for this since it did not solve the problems related to the working conditions that warehouse workers face and regulate unhelpful working environments, but rather made workers themselves responsible for reducing their work-related stress by telling them to visit the pods and practice mindfulness. 

Due to the vast amount of mindfulness programs available, there are common misconceptions about mindfulness, and what is needed for mindfulness practice to work. What can make it more difficult when choosing a mindfulness program or meditation practice, is social media influencers recommending mindfulness meditation programs, apps, and practices, often without making sure that these are validated exercises and programs. 

You may think that, surely, mindfulness meditation is a good thing which can only benefit people, and so why should it not be promoted via social media influencers?

You may also think that maybe mindfulness meditation is different from the health products influencers have been restricted to promote by the TAG, and surely, there is no harm in practising mindfulness?
Actually, there is. Although much research has found that mindfulness can be really helpful for people to deal with everyday stress and mental health, mindfulness may not be helpful for everyone and can also be practised incorrectly and even in a way which may be harmful for some. This is especially the case for mindfulness meditation practices from sources not backed by research.

Here’s an example: anyone who has tried mindfulness meditation before knows, focusing on the present moment can be tricky. You may find that you are having difficulty focusing on your breathing and instead think about your shopping list, what you’re going to make for dinner tonight, or what you have to do later in the day. You may even think about whether you are doing it right. This is called “mind-wandering”. 

However, mind-wandering is a completely normal thing to experience for us humans.

In mindfulness practice, a very important element is ”non-judgement”. This means that when the mind does wander while you are trying to focus on the present moment, for instance on breathing, it is not about feeling bad or being angry at yourself for not being able to focus, but about acknowledging that the mind has wandered and gently returning your attention to the breath, without judging yourself for having lost focus. 

This non-judgement is an integral part of mindfulness practice, as it allows us to approach the experience of focusing on the present moment, for instance observing our breath, with gentleness and kindness, rather than beat ourselves up if our mind wanders.

However, if mindfulness practice is being taught by influencers who are not aware of the element of non-judgement since they have not studied mindfulness comprehensively, this can result in harm to followers, such as judging themselves and feeling worthless or guilty for being unable to complete practices in a way they were told is “correct” by influencers. 

Therefore, the question is: should social media influencers be banned from sharing personal opinions and testimonials and providing definitions and how-to’s about mindfulness meditation, similarly to restrictions relating to health products; seeing as this is so closely linked to mental health? Could it perhaps be helpful to at least have social media influencers include a caveat about the fact that their understanding and practice of mindfulness is not based on scientific knowledge?

With the current hype and misinformation around mindfulness, more education and open conversations about mindfulness are needed, so that people are able to use it as a wellbeing tool in the way it was intended.

We might therefore need to rethink social media influencers without any mindfulness training recommending and providing information on mindfulness programs and practices. Instead, it could be helpful for influencers to refer their followers to experienced practitioners, teachers and researchers.

How to survive a PhD, 6 things that might help

November 6, 2021

At the beginning of a PhD journey, the end goal seems very far away. I recently submitted my part-time PhD in under four years, and here are some things I learned that have helped me on my journey to finishing. I hope it will do the same for you!

1.     Little wins

Because a PhD is a long process with less structure than some other degrees (such as most Bachelor or Master’s degrees), it’s important to celebrate the small victories, or as I like to call them “little wins”. This can be the tiniest achievement, such as successfully downloading software or managing to get your chapter to your supervisor in time, or it can be something larger, such as your research study being approved by the Ethics committee, or your abstract being accepted for a conference. For each little win, just take a moment to think to yourself, “how amazing is this, I pulled it off!”. Because even if it is just the tiniest thing, the alternative of a tiny win is a tiny loss, and research suggests that we spend far more time on grieving those than celebrating the little wins.

You can celebrate your little wins any way you want, enjoy a hot coffee/tea, buy yourself a brand-new notebook, or have an impromptu dance party on your desk chair, just be sure to acknowledge and celebrate that little win!

2.     Plan, plan, plan

I know it may sound obvious, but because PhDs are so much less structured than most other programs and not one PhD looks the same, it’s a good idea to do some planning of what you want to have achieved by certain dates. This includes longer term plans of what you want to have achieved over the next six months or by the end of every year, or short-term goals of what you want to have done at the end of every week. And of course, details of these plans can wary, there will be periods during the year where there are more deadlines to plan for than other times.

3.     Set achievable goals/small steps

Similar to little wins, it’s important to set achievable goals and small steps on this long journey. Because the PhD is such huge project, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to think of all the things you have to do by the time you are ready to submit and defend. So don’t put on your to do list “complete PhD” but break the huge task of doing a PhD down into smaller chunks, like how many studies or chapters you might want to have. Then break these down into further smaller chunks such as what you need to do to answer the research questions, what method you want to use to answer these questions, etc. Then (you guessed it!) break this down into even smaller chunks (chunklets if you will) and that’s when you’re ready to complete very practical things you need to do/find out about/work out, which may then even inform bigger picture things, such as new questions and may change what you had originally thought about your chapter number. What can be really helpful at this stage (the chunklets stage of the process (I have committed to this word now and I like it, so am using it from now on as a legit word)) is to write a to do list. This to do list can have the smallest things on there, in fact, it’s probably a good idea to include the small tasks to avoid overlooking them. And working through your to do list at the chunklet (:D) stage, you get to do the satisfying task of crossing things off when you have achieved them! And who doesn’t like doing that (not me!).

4.     Journal

Along with to do lists, another helpful tool during the PhD process is keeping a research journal. This is basically a journal of ramblings, thoughts you have about an analysis or a chapter or anything else, about things you want to add, and early ideas. This journal isn’t necessarily for anyone else but is mostly for you to read, so don’t worry about writing eloquently (do include words like chunklet, I say) but it’s more about writing down the process of your thinking. Later on in the PhD journey, it can then be super helpful to read back over your early notes to remember your thinking behind a decision you made, or some other ideas you wanted to explore. This can really help shape future studies and help in your write-up of the thesis but is also a super helpful resource for a brain-dump to make sure your thoughts are written down somewhere and thus avoid forgetting important stuff!

5.     Trust your instinct

This is one of the things I have learned the hard way. Always trust your instincts when doing a PhD, even if someone tells you to do something their way. You have come so far, you will know which direction you want to take this PhD. If there is something that doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. I know it can sometimes be hard to stand up to more senior people such as your supervisors, but remember that this is your PhD, and you can take it where you want it to. Remember that you are not “working for” your supervisors, you are working on your own project, and it is your job to do with this project what feels right to you. So, trust your instinct and make it your own, because that is when it turns out to be the best it can be.

6.     Don’t lose sight of the big picture

While little wins and chunklet (still committed to this word) stages are important, don’t forget that you are on an amazing journey here. How amazing is it that you get to spend a lot of time to find out about the things that interest you and discover what other people have written on this topic! You also have the opportunity to answer the questions you have on this specific area of your interest, or at least find out why questions are not answerable (which may give you further interesting questions to explore).

I don’t know about you, but one of my big drivers is finding out about stuff, I love to know everything and apparently am no fun watching a movie with (I want to know all the back stories and motivations behind the actions of the characters, I am a psychologist after all 😊).


So, these are some things (an even 6 😊) that I have found helpful when completing my PhD. I’m planning on doing some more blog posts in the future adding more details to specific areas/stages, but for now, I’d be really keen to hear your thoughts on the above and share what you have found helpful, so let me know!

 Five common myths about mindfulness: debunked

First published on WorkLifePsych blog on April 19, 2021

Mindfulness has become a bit of a hype term with lots of different and often contrasting information advertised. This can make it very confusing to distinguish the truths from the myths.  So here are five common myths about mindfulness, shared from the perspective of a mindfulness researcher:

1. You need to spend lots of time practicing mindfulness before it is beneficial.

Absolutely not. There is a common misconception around mindfulness that you have to spend many decades practicing mindfulness for you to enjoy the benefits which discourages many from even starting a practice. 

While long-term mindfulness practitioners have certainly found their continued practice to have positive impacts on their lives, the benefits of mindfulness can already be seen after a much briefer engagement with mindfulness. Many people have also reported improved wellbeing and concentration after only one mindfulness practice (though this may not necessarily last long).

2. Only long mindfulness practices are helpful.

Similar to above, long practices can be helpful, but research comparing different practice lengths found that shorter practices of just 5 to 10 minutes can have positive effects, especially for those new to mindfulness. 

Because our lives can be so busy, sitting down to practice for a prolonged period of time is just not possible for many. Also, with shorter mindfulness practices, it might be something you look forward to more rather than thinking of it as another chore to be completed. Much like anything you learn or practice, it can be good to start small.

3. You need special equipment for mindfulness practice.

You may have seen a lot of supposedly specialised equipment advertised, such as a meditation cushion which allows you to sit in a meditation pose, or meditation bells that transfer you into a mindful state. None of this is needed. 

All you need is your breath and perhaps a recording of a guided meditation practice on your phone. You don’t even need to sit, you can practice mindfulness while walking, washing dishes, or brushing your teeth. Because everyone is different, the best way to practice mindfulness for you might look different to somebody else. So, make mindfulness work for you!

4. Mindfulness only works when it is taught in a face-to-face group.

Although there are many benefits to learning and practicing mindfulness in a group format, you don’t need to wait until the pandemic is over to sign up to a face-to-face program. 

Mindfulness can also be learned when practiced on your own or with an online community. In fact, research which compared many different mindfulness programs found that different types can be helpful for improving wellbeing. This also makes mindfulness more accessible because it grants people the opportunity to practice mindfulness in their own time, whenever best suits them. 

5. Mindfulness is a panacea that heals all ills.

Sadly not (though wouldn’t that be great?). Even though research has found many benefits of mindfulness when it comes to wellbeing and productivity, if you are in a toxic environment, practicing mindfulness will not eradicate that. And ask discussed on our recent podcast episode about workplace wellbeing, mindfulness is no replacement for good job design. However, mindfulness practice can help you notice and respond better to difficult situations.

Want to make a start?

There are lots of mindfulness resources available online, such apps like Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm, and online courses, for instance those advertised through FutureLearn

The Mindfulness Maze

First published on Discursive of Tunbridge Wells blog on June 25, 2020

There is so much mindfulness about it can be hard to choose a way forward. Sarah Strohmaier investigates how you can develop a practice that’s right for you.

During these stressful times, it can feel like we’re being encouraged from all sides to try mindfulness. Even some employers have urged individuals to engage in mindfulness meditation. Not just as a coping mechanism but to increase productivity when working from home. But the confusing thing is the multiplicity of different mindfulness programs available. So how do you know how much mindfulness practice and which program is best?

Mindfulness is a form of meditation where individuals focus on the present moment, on purpose and without judgement on themselves. Many people from different populations find mindfulness helpful for their wellbeing. Some mindfulness programs are delivered in groups, facilitated by an experienced teacher. These programs can have 2-3 hours of fixed weekly face-to-face sessions participants travel to and involve up to an hour of individual home practice every day. Previous research has found these programs to be beneficial for wellbeing.

But a lot of people assume that benefits of mindfulness practice can only be reaped if you practice a lot. When thinking about mindfulness meditation, people often have a mental picture of a Buddhist monk in their head who has been practicing every day for 10 hours since they were a child. 

And that is of course true for some, but that should not discourage someone from reaping the benefits of mindfulness if they have less time on their hands, have a busy job, family and social live or if, as is the case now, there is a global pandemic which renders travel to group sessions impossible. Longer practices can also feel very challenging, especially for those new to mindfulness who are in the early stages of learning it.

Aside from the more intense mindfulness programs, there are also less intense options available, including online courses which have shorter sessions and practices, apps such as Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer or self-help books. These self-help and online mindfulness programs are generally less time-consuming and more accessible for individuals. They don’t involve travel to the location where a mindfulness group is held, and they can be completed at a place and a time which best suits you. Also, those new to mindfulness can find shorter options easier to start with.

The question is whether learning and practicing mindfulness via shorter options is just as helpful or whether you would need to take part in an intense program for mindfulness to work?

Recent research  comparing mindfulness programs around the world for different people suggests that taking part in a mindfulness program, regardless of length or intensity, can improve wellbeing. Essentially, more intense in-person programs can be helpful but so can shorter programs and those delivered online or via apps. Not only can shorter programs and practices be helpful by themselves, they can also be a helpful stepping stone for those starting out with mindfulness who wish to build up their tenacity to engage in longer practices. And in the meantime, this person can already experience the benefits of mindfulness.

Take the example of someone whose aim it is to run a marathon. Would you expect this person to run 42 km the first day they put on their running shoes? Or does it make more sense to start off with running 1 km, then 5 km and slowly build up the tenacity to run 42 km? Remember, the first person to run a marathon in Greek mythology died of overexertion because they had not practiced running this distance before. In parallel, being asked to practice a lot of mindfulness at once can certainly make someone stop practicing especially if long practices seem very challenging and confusing to start off with. Also, asking people to practice a lot from the start might put them off from continuing with mindfulness because it seems too large of a challenge.

So, if you want to reap the benefits of mindfulness or do not have a lot of time to designate to this, it is good to know that there are shorter alternatives available which can also be beneficial.