Rx for Stress: Mindfulness

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Jay M. Winner, MD, FAAFP


November 13, 2017

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The AAFP Physician Health First portal provides numerous online resources to support physician well-being.

Hi. I am Jay Winner, family physician, stress reduction teacher and lecturer, and author of the book Relaxation on the Run. As physicians, we enjoy our work more with a balanced life and optimized office efficiency, but we can do other things to increase the fulfillment of our jobs and reduce frustration.

I want to talk about a technique called mindfulness. You might be reluctant to practice mindfulness because you think it takes a long time, with hours of yoga, meditation, or tai chi. Mindfulness techniques do not have to take much time. You can become more relaxed, mindful, and present in seconds.

We have all been mindful or not mindful at times. When you are not mindful in a doctor's office setting, you are really frustrated. You just wish the visit, or the day, would be over with already. You are hating your paperwork or computer work. On the other hand, when you are mindful, you are connecting with your patients. You are even doing paperwork or computer work calmly and efficiently, one message or one lab result at a time.

We all want to make changes for the future, but when we are mindful we are fully engaged in the present as we make those changes. How can we increase the amount of mindfulness in our day? Let's start with something super easy. We all breathe, and a breath is a really short amount of time. You can pay full attention to one breath. Right now, feel your abdomen expand with the inhalation and then relax with the exhalation. Go ahead. Pretty easy, right?

Let's say that you are now in the middle of your busy day and are distracted. You are hating something about your electronic medical record. Maybe you discussed a new cancer diagnosis with a patient and you are having trouble being focused on the next patient with a sinus infection. Maybe something at home is distracting you.

As you walk down the hall before seeing that next patient, imagine setting your intention that you are going to connect with this patient. Pay attention to one breath and feel your hand open the door handle. Then go in and see the patient. Let's say you get distracted during the visit. That is quite likely, but do not give yourself a hard time. If mindfulness is about anything, it's about patience. It's about bringing your attention back, time and time again, to focus on your patient and what is going on with him or her.

When you can sprinkle these little bits of mindfulness throughout your day, it makes a huge difference. Even if you increase your amount of mindfulness from 2% to 4% of the time, it doubles your stress reduction. Every little moment of mindfulness comes with a residual effect of being more relaxed later.

If you want to reduce frustration, increase fulfillment, and become a more effective physician, mindfulness is a key skill to develop.

Editor's note: Dr Winner provides a range of resources for primary care physicians on his website, including online guided meditations offered free of charge.

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