Physicians hit the ground running every day with myriad tasks related to patient care that place us in a hyper-stressed state. Let’s not forget that life’s stressors outside work are equally demanding and beyond equally important.
What are physicians to do?
The myriad of little (and sometimes not so little) frustrations that we encounter daily can drain our energy and impact how we perform. Physicians need focused energy to power through their busy days and find tangible ways to recognize and process stress to mitigate negative emotions. All this while sustaining a healthy lifestyle.
Too often, physicians run at DEFCON 1 without recognizing how their intensity affects the care of their patients, family obligations, and, probably more importantly, their minds and body. Physicians must find ways, not taught in medical school or residency, to dial it back to preserve their sanity.
How do physicians dial it back?
Physicians no longer must accept the commonly taught belief that “this is medicine, and that’s just the way it is.” The reality is that the hyper-stressed environments brought on by the current state of health care isn’t sustainable. We need to employ strategies to prevent us from being overwhelmed by medicine and our families if we are to have successful and fulfilling careers.
We can alter our minds to bring meaningful change in our lives. This article provides the top five tips for physicians to create mindfulness.
1. Identify your values. Identifying your values is an 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 toward your 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 reset and focus on what matters most.
2. Find a mantra. Does your mind wander, or do you find yourself distracted by work during life’s moments and events? To stay focused and engaged, pick a phrase to ground you in the moment, such as “be here now.” Choose this phrase in advance, so you have it in your toolbox when you need it.
Then, when you’re feeling an unnecessary sense of urgency, process it, let that feeling move through you, and then say to yourself, “Be here now.” Repeating your mantra will help bring you back to being present in the moment. Use your mantra to stick with your values as identified in tip #1 to focus on what is most important to you to live a less stressful life.
3. Tell people what you need. Don’t expect others to know what you need or don’t need. It’s helpful for you and your loved ones to know what sets you off or what you need to minimize daily stressors.
It’s human nature to support those you care about, right? And one of the ways you do that is to show an interest in their day by asking, “How was your day?” Although it’s well-meaning, having to recount your day can impede your ability to relax and reduce the intense feelings you brought home. Let your loved one know what you need by reframing this interaction by saying, “You know what, I think it would be better for me if I had a little space to not talk about work today. I want to hear how your day was.” This is a straightforward 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 simple one! Get outside and disconnect from mobile devices. Being outside in nature is a beautiful way to let your nervous system shift gears to relax and feel refreshed. Prioritize your time outside no matter what you think others will say about your time outside. Take a 5 to 10 minute walk between patients or an even longer walk during your lunch break. Even if you feel behind in your charting, get outside for a bit.
5. Practice yoga or meditation. Meditation and yoga take some practice, but research demonstrates they reduce and process stress to allow you to live in the moment. No matter how busy you think you are, find 3 to 10 minutes to start your day with either yoga or meditation. Search YouTube for beginner-level videos to guide you each morning.
If you act on these simple tips, we are confident that you’ll begin to see a transformation, and so will those around you. You’ll start to see that some of those things that frustrated you previously now have less power over you.
Your relationships with colleagues, friends, and loved ones will improve. Your patients will benefit from you taking steps to have greater mindfulness.
Most importantly, you will benefit.
Make mindfulness part of your life. Remember, these are skills we can build over time. Just like we build on our clinical skills over our careers, well-being is an area where we can learn and practice using these tools to continue to grow and move toward what matters most to each of us.
Aaron Morgenstein is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and founder, FlexMedStaff.com, a fully transparent and free marketplace for physicians to find new clinical and non-clinical opportunities to improve work-life balance. Contact Aaron here.