Healthcare Professional Burnout and Resilience

Mindfulness: More than a Buzzword

Mindfulness is everywhere these days: on the cover of Time magazine and Scientific America; Google, GE and other corporations  have adopted mindfulness as a leadership, wellness and performance strategy; and a variety of apps are available to help you be “in the moment” (using your smart phone, the most distracting of all human inventions!). While there was virtually no research on mindfulness in the 1990s, today over 1000 peer reviewed articles are published on the topic every year!

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) has invested in mindfulness as way to enhance employee resilience and engagement, to support staff and physicians to survive and even thrive in the frenetic, fractured world of the hospital. We’ve published research studies demonstrating the positive effects of mindfulness based interventions for healthcare workers, including: reduced stress, enhanced compassion for self and others, greater enjoyment of work and homelife (see www.shinehhs.ca/get-healthy/be-mindful ). We offer a range of mindfulness workshops and courses, specifically tailored to meet the needs of healthcare workers; these are available through the HHS Centre for People development: www.centreforpeopledevelopment.ca .  The AMS Phoenix Fellowship supported HHS to pilot a new program in Winter 2017 called Mindful Self Compassion, based on the work of Dr. Chris Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff.

But mindfulness can seem like a buzzword or a fad…until you experience its impact first-hand. Jillian Horning (JH) is a Junior Research Coordinator who works at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) at HHS. She is a recent graduate of our Mindful Self Compassion course. Here is how she describes how mindfulness has impacted her life, both personally and professionally:

How would you describe mindfulness and mindfulness meditation to someone who has no knowledge of the subject?

JH: Mindfulness is the opposite of living mindlessly. Mindlessness is when you don’t pay attention to what is happening here and now in your life because you are distracted by the stresses and concerns of the past and future. In contrast, mindfulness is living in a state of active, open awareness of the internal and external experience of the present moment.

Mindfulness meditation is about engaging your awareness by focusing on the body’s sensory experience and the rhythm of the breath as a means to bring your attention to the present moment. Staying in this state of present moment awareness can be challenging as the mind tends to drift back to the past and future, mentally writing out a grocery list or worrying about a problem at work instead of focusing on what is happening in front of you. The key to mindfulness meditation is to notice when your mind is wandering and bring your attention back to the present. It’s an exercise that you have to do over and over again, which is why mindfulness meditation is often referred to as a “practice”.

Where do you use mindfulness and how often do you practice?

JH: Mindfulness practice can be broken down into formal and informal practice. Formal practice is what we typically think of as meditation. I try to do this type of practice every day in the mornings before I leave for work. I take about ten minutes to sit and focus on my breath and intentions for the day so that I am refreshed and centered in the moment. I try to do a longer structured practice on the weekends where I often use guided meditations that I find online.

However, I have found that my informal practice is the most important to my daily life. Informal practice can be done at any time and is simply bringing yourself back to the moment whenever you notice that your mind has left, even if it’s just for a few seconds. I do informal mindfulness practice during those little moments during the day when I find myself waiting, automatically reaching for my phone, or absent-mindedly looking for a distraction. I try to practice whenever stress or negative emotions come up in my day-to-day experience, but I also practice informally when I encounter happiness in my life – mindfulness isn’t only for when you’re stressed! My informal practice helps me be more aware of the joys in my life so that I can really savor and be thankful for each moment.

One of the key components of a mindfulness practice is learning to come back to yourself in the present moment with an attitude of compassion and non-judgment. It may be an automatic reaction to judge yourself as ‘failing’ when you are unable to keep your attention on the present moment, but this is a necessary step to developing the skill of mindfulness. The act of catching yourself and consciously bringing your awareness back to the present moment is how mindfulness is learned and cultivated.

How has mindfulness benefited you personally?

JH: My practice has had positive consequences for my whole health and wellbeing. I feel that I am able to better identify how my mind effects my emotions and body. Mindfulness has increased my resilience and ability to intentionally manage my stress. Since starting my practice I find it much easier to return my awareness to the present moment and keep my footing during the ups and downs of life. When I am mindful I am more aware of how my body and mind interact and what they both need to work and rest effectively. This has been beneficial to my personal and work relationships and has bolstered my patience and ability to intentionally focus on the challenges I am tackling. Mindful awareness has helped me improve my posture, slow down and enjoy my food, listen more effectively, keep my cool in difficult situations, and be more thankful. I’ve found that the implications that mindfulness has for my life are truly endless.

Anything else you would like to share?

JH: Mindfulness is really something that anyone can learn and benefit from. The tools and skills I developed from my mindfulness practice are widely applicable and have created systemic positive changes in my life. I think mindfulness is especially helpful for people working with a lot of stress, like those in the helping professions. Learning to be mindfully aware of the present moment is an essential skill to maintaining health and resilience and, in my opinion, is important for everyone to learn.

About the author

Dr. Andrea Frolic

“Compassion 360: Transforming Hospital Culture Through Mindfulness and Compassion" …

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