How Mindfulness Helps Reduce Stress for Healthcare Workers
As a healthcare worker, you already know stress comes with the territory. Burnout among healthcare workers has steadily increased in recent years, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of stress and anxiety (and risk of burnout) has grown exponentially. While everyone has felt frustrated and helpless in recent months, it’s magnified at least 10x for those on the frontlines.
Now more than ever, the world is dependent on our valued healthcare heroes — which is why it’s imperative to take every possible step to engage in self-care and manage your mental health. mindfulness is one of the best tools you have at your disposal. .
According to the American Journal of Medicine, mindfulness is “a way of being in which an individual maintains openness, patience, and acceptance while focusing attention on an unfolding situation in a nonjudgmental way.”
Here’s what you need to know to begin mastering the art of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a Superpower
Evidence suggests that mindfulness can help improve symptoms of anxiety, burnout, and depression. Again, according to the American Journal of Medicine, mindfulness practices are also associated with enhanced active listening skills, an authentic connection to yourself and your patients, better error recognition, and stronger clinical insight. In other words, it’s a bit like a superpower. When practiced regularly, it can help you feel better and also perform better.
Best of all, it only takes a few minutes per day. Here are a few quick-and-easy exercises you can incorporate to become more mindful:
- Practice the Pause: When you first arrive and sit down at your computer, take a moment to feel your weight in the chair and your feet planted on the floor. Take a few deep, calming breaths. Inhale for a count of five, pause, then exhale for five (or whatever is most comfortable and calming for you), and pause again.
- Try Mindful Handwashing: Use your handwashing time as an opportunity to just be present in the physical sensations of the act. Feel the soap as you lather your hands, the temperature of the water, and the sensation as you rinse. Focus on staying in the present and try to stave off any thoughts of the past or future , at least until you’ve finished washing your hands.
- Schedule Regular Body Check-Ins: Every hour or so, take a moment to check in with yourself. Assess your posture — are you sitting or standing up straight, or hunching your back? Examine your breathing — has your breathing become quick and shallow? If so, take a few deep breaths to calm your nervous system. Be sure to consider any sensations in your body, stretch any areas that feel tight, and take a moment to focus your gaze outside.
- Approach Others With Awareness: As you approach a patient’s room, take a moment to notice your footfalls on the floor. Take a deep, cleansing breath and answer the question, “How am I feeling?” Recognize and accept those emotions. When approaching a colleague or patient, focus entirely on them. Start every conversation fully engaged with the other person and listen intently. If you find your mind wandering, take notice, and shift yourself back to the present moment.
- Find a Moment of Peace: At least once per shift, take a moment to gaze at something you find beautiful. You may want to look out a window and up at the sky, the trees, a bird, some flowers. If possible, take a break away from any demands — like a quiet hallway, empty room, or outdoors. Practice taking calming breaths and recognize the feelings of joy or contentedness connected to the experience.
- Try Guided Meditations
Guided meditation can leave you feeling renewed and re-energized, yet calm and collected. You can find a wealth of guided meditations on YouTube or by downloading an app like Headspace or Calm. It’s a good idea to schedule at least a five-minute guided meditation before and/or after each shift.
Adopting a mindfulness practice can be a game changer for healthcare professionals — not only during these especially turbulent times but always. Just remember, if you feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety or if you feel depressed or hopeless, be sure to contact a mental health professional.