Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Five Habits to Reduce Stress and Bring Joy to Patient Care


Five simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into our daily patient interactions, increasing the joy of patient care.

How often have you found yourself treating a patient, but with much of your attention on the other tasks you have to accomplish? What is this like? In my personal experience, quite stressful and unpleasant.

We are no strangers to stress. Our bodies are often in a fight-or-flight response even when there is no immediate danger. This is what is unique about being human–we can turn on the stress response just by a thought or in anticipation of a stressful situation (e.g., everything we have to do before the day ends).

Three Consequences of Stress on Patient Care

  • When we are stressed, we tend to react to situations, rather than respond with thoughtfulness and wisdom. We may say things we didn’t intend to say and act without full attention (e.g., make more mistakes).
  • We are not as present in our communication. As a result, patients feel they are not being heard; and, in fact, we may not be listening.
  • We miss out on the joys of patient care–what brought many of us into this field–because we are too focused on what to do next.

Five Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness

Is there an alternative when there is so much to do, not enough time to do it, and you want to do it all well?

In my experience, one of the most useful tools I have encountered in reducing stress, being more productive and at the same time enjoying the process of patient care (despite everything else I have to do) is to incorporate mindfulness into my days.

It’s simple, but not always easy to incorporate into our daily lives.

Here are some places to begin:

  • Take a three-breath break before you see a patient.
    Pause and take three full, deep breaths. Re-center yourself into this moment.
  • Remind yourself that this moment is the only one that is real–the past is over and we can’t know exactly how the future will unfold.
  • Label your emotion in the moment–even if it is unpleasant–frustration, irritability, sadness. This simple tool can help diffuse what you are feeling.
  • Drop the story. We can become so intertwined with a story that we attach to a stressful event. Much of it isn’t even real. State the facts in a sentence and see if you can drop the story.
  • Be a mindful listener. See if you can listen to your patient without anticipating what he/she will say next or planning what you will say next.

You can begin by choosing one of these tools to practice over the next week.

Check in with yourself at the end of the week. What do you notice?

These are small changes, but with continued practice you may notice important effects on your stress levels, and you may also begin to recapture more joy in your patient interactions. Of course, this is good for you and for your patients.