The Optimized Doctor



How might mindfulness contribute to your mental collapse? Let’s say your work has become tedious. Tottering toward burnout, you decide to try mindfulness meditation to reverse your downward trend. However, you habitually fail to do your daily meditation. Now, “Meditate today” just piles on to your to-do list, a daily reminder of just how weak and disorganized you have become. Voila! Mindfulness is making you more crazy. There are things you can do to avoid this.

There are plenty of things to tip us doctors into burnout. We are not alone in the burnout epidemic, but we are overrepresented. More than 50% of physicians have burnout symptoms according to a recent Mayo Clinic study. Mindfulness training can help.

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio

In 2014, the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, launched the Mindful Physician Leadership Program. Fifty physicians participated in a year-long program that emphasized numerous mindfulness exercises, such as practiced meditation, purposeful pauses, and reflections to combat workplace stressors. The results were overwhelmingly positive.

According to an interview with the program’s director, Douglas Zeidonis, MD, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts, most of the physicians reported that mindfulness training significantly benefited their work and personal lives. Mindfulness helped them feel more present and engaged with colleagues and patients and made them better clinicians – they reported showing more compassion toward patients.

Like any desirable habit, the key is to do it again and again and again. Here are a few recommendations to help you become more mindful during your workday.

1. Set random alarms (vibrate mode) on your smartphone to remind yourself to take a moment. When it goes off, do this: Breathe (4 seconds in, hold, then 8 seconds out) and be totally present for one minute.

2. Remove deliciously distracting apps from your phone’s home screen. Instead, tuck them away in a folder to reduce the likelihood you’ll click on them when you’re stressed.

3. Put meditation apps where you easily see them. You might try:

The Mindfulness App: This app offers guided meditations in varying lengths from 3 to 30 minutes, so you can choose the one that’s right for you at any time of the day. Cool features include tracking your progress and setting reminders.

Headspace: Headspace is known for helping people learn to meditate in just 10 easy minutes a day. Cool features include the ability to track your progress and to buddy up with a friend to help keep you motivated.

Omvana: This app offers over 500 “transformative” audios to improve all areas of your life from work to personal relationships. Cool features include tracks to improve sleep, something more than a few of us might appreciate.

Stop, Breathe, & Think: Quicker than Headspace, this app teaches you to meditate in 5 minutes a day and is easy to use at your workplace. Cool features include customizing meditations based upon your mood.

Take a Break!: Ideal for the workplace, this app will help you carve out time each day to breathe, relax, and focus. Cool features include the ability to choose meditations with voice, music, or nature sounds.

4. Block a 10-minute mindfulness appointment on your schedule in the afternoon. Becoming more resilient will more than offset the short term lost revenue if you avoid retiring too soon due to burnout!

5. If you have an Apple watch, then try the new Breathe app. It reminds you to stop, breathe, and relax and even reports your heart rate afterward.

So unless you are expecting 2017 to be uneventful, I suggest you start building your mindfulness habit today.

Serenity now, serenity now.

Dr. Benabio is a partner physician in the department of dermatology of the Southern California Permanente Group in San Diego. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at . He has no disclosures related to this column.

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