Can Mindfulness Help Doctors Battle Stress at Work?

Stress at Work

It is no secret that doctors and medical staff can have high levels of stress at work.  They often deal with things that most of us never see in our daily lives. Many, especially in the ER, are around tragedy day in and day out, and often make life and death decisions.  The pressure and stress at work can be tremendous, and I’m often awed by their ability to remain professional and deal with the things that they see.  That said, I write this article in the hope that it can help those who save our lives on a daily basis, and give back to a community that really makes a difference to so many.Mindfulness Helps Battle Stress at Work

When I recently read an article in The Montreal Gazette, I was not surprised to learn that some physicians are using mindfulness meditation to effectively deal with stress.  According to the article, “Physicians are healing themselves through meditation | McGill’s mindfulness meditation teaches doctors coping skills:”

Nearly half of all healthcare providers suffer from a high degree of stress at work, according to Statistics Canada. Since 2001, the Canadian Medical Association has urged physicians to manage their health so as to give the best care to patients…

…Pediatrician Stephen Liben knew he needed to figure out how to cope better with the stress. The director of pediatric-palliative care at the Montreal Children’s Hospital was finding himself angry or defensive in heated moments with parents…

…”If you’re finding yourself reacting out of anger or frustration and it has brought neither you nor others around you any happiness or understanding, you start asking yourself: Is there any other way to be in the world other than this reactive way?” Liben said.


A Mindful Alternative

There certainly are other ways to interact with the world other than pure reaction.  When we look deep into ourselves we see how much programming society, and just being alive on this planet, has done to our psyche.  By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve been exposed to so much stimulation, and our reactions to that stimuli has placed many filters between our senses and our minds.  These filters prevent us from seeing situations as they truly are. We lose truth, and often become reactive to situations instead of passive. We sense something, then that something triggers a memory and emotion, and then we react based on the triggered emotion.  These memories trigger attachment or aversion, and in many cases, trip our fight or flight response.
This served us well when we were hunter gatherers and lived in dangerous places with harsh climates.  It also serves us well in certain situations in modern life.  However, the ability to shut off the thoughts and reactions to emotion before the feelings take hold is no small feat.

Enter Mindful Practice

Mindfulness techniques allow us to witness our thoughts without judgement. In doing so, we naturally become less likely to react out of emotion and more likely to notice when these thoughts and emotions stir, and be able to choose a more appropriate response with a much more clear and level head. Mindfulness creates space in our minds, and buys us time.  The article, talking about Liben, goes on to state:

When faced with angry parents, Liben found that he could be more helpful. By not reacting negatively, he could acknowledge their suffering, and shift the conversation to how he could help them make things better for themselves and their ill child.

“It helps me realize that it’s not really about me at all, but rather about what the other person is going through and that my job is to do what I can for that person,” Liben said.

He has been able to catch himself before his filters trigger an emotionally negative reaction.  Mindfulness meditation has allowed him a deep understanding of his thoughts and reactions, and is giving him the ability to remain cool in stressful situations.  This is a screaming example to a direct benefit of mindfulness practice.  His perspective shifts from one of defense to one of empathy.  He can become much more focused on helping others in confusing and scary situations, and in turn, can help himself in many ways.

Reducing Stress

Mindfulness techniques can go a long way in helping to reduce stress at work, and in general.  Healthcare is one industry in many that can benefit from meditation, or really anything that can help reduce stress.  Calming the mind will calm the body and help one deal with stressful situations on a daily basis.  The ability to cut through the noise and mental clutter that most of us carry around with us goes a long way in helping one to make clear and critical decisions in very stressful situations.

 Techniques to Reduce Stress at Work

  • Take short breaks and practice mindful breathing
    1. Find a quiet place, like a restroom or stairwell
    2. Take a deep breath and hold for a couple of seconds, then release
    3. Tense your body, then release
    4. Spend a few minutes paying attention to yourself breathing in and out
    5. Follow your breath, and if thoughts arise, just let them go
      1. Don’t dwell on the thoughts
      2. If they persist, just gently remind yourself to return to your breath
      3. When you feel calm, stay there for a little while
    6. Return to work feeling calm and refreshed
The more you do this, the easier it will get with time.  Be patient above all, and you’ll see results.  Be kind to yourself, as we all battle with different things.  If you don’t feel calm, or this isn’t working for you, there are plenty of other techniques to try.  None of us are born knowing these things, so it takes time to learn.  You’ll get it if you keep at it.
There are many more techniques and information on this site and others. Feel free to browse and comment on things that you find helpful.  This can only serve to help others, and by doing so, you’ll be helping yourself.

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