These mindfulness tips can help you begin to see a transformation in your life as a busy physician.
Physicians and other healthcare workers hit the ground running every day with a myriad of tasks related to patient care, charting, committee and leadership work, CME, etc. Not to mention, you have a life outside of work. Equally demanding. You need focused energy to power through. But what about the myriad of tiny little (and sometimes not so little) frustrations that smack you, that can drain your energy and impact how you perform? Is it valuable to you to find tangible ways to recognize and process stress, and mitigate negative emotions, so that you can do the job you love in a healthy and sustainable way?
Being able to keep the intensity dialed up as physicians serves us and our patients well, and we should give ourselves credit for it. The trouble is that we have been working at full speed for so long – premed, medical school, residency, fellowship, and straight on into our careers as attending physicians – that we find it hard to dial it back in situations when we really don’t need to be speeding at DEFCON 1.
At DocWorking, we’ve had many conversations with physicians about this subject, and it seems that we often feel as healthcare professionals that we just have to accept this. We often hear, “That’s just the way it is.” This acceptance of being hyper-stressed normalizes it, and the reality is that being in a hyperstressed state isn’t sustainable for the long term and this attitude needs to change if we’re to continue having successful and fulfilling careers in the medical profession.
So with this in mind, what are some of the ways that we can begin to make meaningful change in our lives?
1. Identify Your Values
Identifying your values can influence how you recognize your intentions as you go through your day. This is a really effective way to shift your mindset to recognize what matters most to you, which in turn will help you change your perspective on a situation that may have the potential to cause, for example, irritation.
When you see your actions, thoughts, and behaviors through the lens of your values, you can become less reactive, and less swept away in an activated stress response.
So, ask yourself what really matters to you – not to your employer, not to the world, but what matters to you. You might be surprised how powerful this can be in helping you to reset and focus, and to set boundaries in order to keep your focus on what matters most.
2. Find a Mantra
Maybe you’re in the park with your kids, or you’re at dinner with friends. Your kids are running around having fun, or your friends are chatting about the car they just bought. Meanwhile, your mind is wandering to what you have to do at work tomorrow, and at the same time you’re tempted to pick up your phone and check your emails.
Sound familiar? If you find yourself in these situations, unable to turn work off, try this: Pick a phrase that will ground you in the moment. It could be something like, “Be here now.” You need to do this in advance, so that you have it in your toolbox when you need it.
Then, when you’re feeling an unnecessary sense of urgency, name that urgency, process it, let that feeling move through you, and then say to yourself “Be here now.” This will help bring you back to home base and away from that feeling that you should be doing more, multitasking. This ties in with identifying your values. If the most important thing to you is to spend time with your family or friends, then it makes sense that you should move yourself out of that high stress mode to be present in the moments that mean the most to you.
3. Tell People What You Need
It’s human nature to want to support those you care about, right? And one of the ways you do that is to show an interest in their day. I’d take a bet that almost everyone reading this gets asked, “How was your day?” soon after they get home. Although it’s well-meaning, having to recount your day can impede your ability to relax and reduce the feelings of intensity that you’ve brought home with you.
If this resonates with you, try reframing that first interaction at the end of each day as a mother/father/significant other by saying, “You know what, I think it’s going to be better for me if I just have a little bit of space to not talk about work. I want to hear how your day was.” This is a really simple way to carve out the time and emotional space for you to switch gears, and it’ll make your loved one feel cared for as well! A win-win.
4. Embrace Nature
This is a really simple one. We all know it feels great to be outside in nature, and it’s a beautiful way to let your nervous system shift gears. You relax, you get a different perspective on things, and feel enriched and refreshed. If there’s no internet access, even better. If this is one of your values, or if it can tie to one (or more) of your values, give yourself permission to prioritize time out in nature every day, even multiple times per day.
Will you have trouble finding the time for this? Try walking outside for 5-10 minutes between patients twice a day. If your first thought is: “I would not be allowed to do that,” or “That would not go over well in my work environment,” ask yourself this: Why not? What would happen? Most likely, nothing (That’s what I found out when I tried it!). Try taking the outside path to get to the cafeteria for lunch. That’s not the shortest way to get there? Good! Take the longer outdoor route.
5. Practice Meditation
Meditation takes some practice, but research demonstrates time and time again that it’s a great way to reduce and process stress and to live in the moment.
If you act on these simple tips, I’m confident that you’ll begin to see a transformation, and so will those around you. You’ll begin to see some of those things that frustrated you previously lose their power over you. Your relationships with colleagues and loved ones will benefit, your work will benefit, and, most importantly, you will benefit.
Check out this DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast episode related to the impact of mindfulness and meditation: