As an ER doctor for the last 35 years, I have personally had to define ways to calm my body and mind from the incredible stresses associated with this profession. Today we see new roles emerging in the healthcare field, like Chief Wellness Officers, to help physicians, surgeons, and other specialists manage the intense stress and pressure they are under daily. A great move inspired by Stanford University out of Northern California, where they are now offering courses to help manage physician burn out through wellness practices.
Throughout my career, I never had the luxury of a Chief Wellness Officer to help guide me through these stresses, so, like my contemporaries, I had to learn a more holistic approach on my own. Therefore, I started studying and practicing mindfulness, the act of being present in the moment by focusing on the here and now through breathing exercises.
Over my decades of practice, I have shared this approach with my patients and encouraged them to make mindfulness a part of their daily routine.
As Chief Medical Officer of the Prevention Generation, I want to use this platform to share the approach traditionally reserved for my patients with all of you.
First off, mindfulness is a form of meditation that relies on bringing your awareness back to the present moment and releasing yourself of the stresses out of your control. With our minds often preoccupied with memories or thoughts of the past, plans for the future, or concerns of the present day, the idea of being in the moment can be tough to consider. Practicing mindfulness meditation is very simple. You do not need to purchase any special equipment to find any particular location. It only requires you to be present at the moment and to focus your attention on the here and now.
- Start by finding a quiet place where your disruptions will be limited.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position making sure you don’t fall asleep.
- Start by slow deep breathes–in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- You should feel your diaphragm and chest rise and expand.
- Don’t worry about quieting your mind. Just accept that your attention will wander, and when it does, bring it back to the present.
- Don’t dwell or judge your thoughts–just let them come and go always returning to your breathing technique.
One of the key things I talk to my patients about is the ability to practice mindfulness anywhere and at most any time. Not to sound funny, but you can be in the shower, exercising, doing the dishes, taking a walk, or simply taking a seat on the couch, and you can start your mindfulness process based on the steps outlined. The more you practice, the better you become. But remember there is no “one size fits all” approach, so relax and do what works for you. The most significant benefit of practicing mindfulness, as I mentioned, is to reduce stress. Regular practice of mindful meditation correlates with:
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing cognitive decline and memory loss associated with the aging brain
- Increasing certain types of immune cells
Several mindfulness studies around immune health are encouraging with some patients showing a statistically significant increase in certain types of immune cells. In contrast, other studies have shown Improvement in biomarkers for improved immune function.
So, while studies continue to show real benefit, it is up to all of us to put the practice of mindfulness to work in our everyday lives. I hope this overview helps put context around the approach.
Be safe and be healthy Prevention Generation–and remember to be in the moment!
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