Why Cyber Mindfulness is the Future of Cybersecurity

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As we head into a new year, many of us earnestly take a vow to better ourselves. We may, for example, pledge to work fewer hours, dedicate more time to our loved ones or leave work in the office. We strive to make these changes with honest intentions, especially when we know that they’ll only improve our quality of life. However, statistics show that within a month of setting them, over 40% of people have already ditched their New Year’s Resolutions. But what if, in 2023, we commit to honoring those pledges and, in turn, our mental well-being? Let’s make 2023 the year of cyber mindfulness.

Cybersecurity professionals know that potential threats and opportunistic cyber-criminals don’t sleep. Cybersecurity isn’t a 9 to 5 job; it’s a 24/7/235 exercise that doesn’t differentiate friends’ birthdays or Thanksgiving. Shockingly (or perhaps not), one in five CISOs have admitted to working more than 25 extra hours per week. People who gravitate towards highly skilled and high-pressured jobs such as these are often known for their genuine desire to protect others and the businesses they represent, which is why they regularly go above and beyond to complete their duties. This might mean working extra hours and shouldering a lot of responsibility. But at what cost? Last year, nearly half of cybersecurity professionals admitted to feeling extreme stress.

It definitely won’t be an easy change, especially if many feel that stress has become a part of the job. As with any systemic change, it will be a monumental and lengthy task. But it is an urgently needed one that we must commit to for the better. We simply cannot continue putting our hardworking security professionals at risk of burnout, especially when this could manifest further into various long-term mental illnesses. But where can changemakers start?

Examining Our Work Environments 

Many of us overlook how important our work environments are, especially in the age of hybrid working. Statistics show that nearly 75% of companies globally have adopted a hybrid working model, despite us being (lawfully) on the other side of the pandemic. This has many positive well-being benefits, such as no commute time, flexibility around family commitments and personalized working experiences. However, this also means that boundaries between work and home are more blurred.

Whether working from home or in an office, it is important to have a clear boundary between home/leisure spaces and workspaces. An example of a boundary you could put in place is limiting exposure to emails outside of work hours. Of course, from time to time, something essential and time-sensitive may crop up (that’s different), but often it can wait 12 hours. Leaving work in the physical office allows our home time to feel ours. 

However, our home environments are not necessarily optimized for working. Some may not have dedicated studies or home offices; our kitchen tables may moonlight as office desks, and our co-working space ‘colleagues’ may consist of disruptive children or pets. These are not particularly stress-free conditions. As we know, stressful conditions can lead to silly (and costly) mistakes, like clicking a dodgy email link or hastily falling for a phishing attack. It can result in alert fatigue and burnout too. It’s also hard to leave your job at work when you’re working in your home. So, how can we make our workspace more mindful?

Setting the Mood: Optimizing Our Spaces for Work

Curating a physical environment that signifies work is important. First, you must dedicate one area to work. This space should not (space permitting) be in your bedroom, as this could cause sleep problems. If you do not have the room to set up a home office, you can signify ‘work’ in other ways.

"Stressful conditions can lead to silly (and costly) mistakes, like clicking a dodgy email link or hastily falling for a phishing attack"

Your sense of smell is one of your most powerful senses. You can train your brain to associate different scents with a specific environment. For focus, a blend of peppermint, rosemary and frankincense essential oils is ideal. This could be applied onto the wrists using a roller bottle, gently diffused in an electrical diffuser, contained within a lit candle etc. If you consistently use essential oils with such scents, you should feel more focused. Alternatively, you could opt for a relaxing scent elsewhere, for example, in the bedroom, that signifies sleep or a state of deep relaxation.

Many of us like to listen to music when working; however, swapping out the top hits for binaural beats could be beneficial to your focus. Binaural beats are auditory illusions that put your brain into a certain mood state. These tracks are without highs or lows, breaks and lyrics. For productivity and alertness, try binaural beats featuring beta waves (13 to 32Hz). These should be listened to for ideally 25 minutes (or longer) whilst working, using headphones, for maximum effect. This duration is also the ideal time to work according to popular productivity methods such as the Pomodoro method, working on a task for 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute break. Binaural beat tracks and Pomodoro work timers can be found on various productivity platforms or apps.

Easy Things You Can Do to Relax

Once you’ve created the right environment and put the appropriate boundaries in place, you should dedicate time to listening to your body and watching for signs of stress. As mentioned, stress can increase susceptibility to social engineering attacks and irrational decision-making. Bookending your working day with mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing, can be a great way to connect with your environment and de-stress your body.

Before a big task, try box breathing. This will help you feel focused. You can ‘box breathe’ by inhaling for four, holding for four, exhaling for four and repeating for about five minutes. This helps you check in with your body. Scientifically speaking, box breathing helps regulate the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bodies, which can be out of balance when feeling anxious or stressed.

You could also try keeping a notebook nearby and scribbling down any lingering thoughts. The art of physically writing down our stresses and worries materializes them as a release. You can pick up these thoughts at a time more convenient to your well-being.

Likewise, exercising is another simple thing you can do to feel less stressed and more relaxed. Scientifically, exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good. Therefore, any sort of movement is beneficial, depending on what is accessible to you, whether getting out for a walk in nature, dancing to your favorite song in the kitchen or doing a few stretches at your desk.

Commitment to Meaningful and Long-Lasting Change

None of this, however, addresses the fact that many can’t seem to stick to their resolutions. Perhaps that’s because we expect to miraculously change our entire ethos overnight. This is not realistic. Meaningful change takes time and commitment. One way you can make habits stick is by adopting the method of habit stacking. This can be achieved by pairing an existing habit with a new one within your daily routine; this way, you are more likely to stick to it. For example, you might commit to doing 10 stretches before brushing your teeth or have your evening shower before bed to help you sleep. Regardless of what existing habits you choose to stack, this technique can help us adapt to the changes in our routines, leading to lasting change.

Let’s Make 2023 the Year of Cyber Mindfulness 

If we can commit to making small changes to our existing routines, we can be our best, most productive selves. By prioritizing our mental well-being, we can ensure that we’re not making reckless mistakes and falling into the traps of threat actors. It’s time to foster a mindfulness mindset.

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