Mindfulness practice, deconstructed into practical small habits, helps busy healthcare professionals better manage their daily stress.
A few years ago, I was convinced that my research on meditation’s effects on the immune system and gut microbes should be enough to convince clinicians to start a meditation practice. Later, I realized that many of my clients who were physicians simply didn’t have the time to meditate.
I asked myself, “If meditation is off the table, can clinicians still learn mindfulness?” Mindfulness is a trait that helps us to stay focused on one task and to refocus when distracting thoughts arise. Through regular practice, it can create mental clarity and the ability to witness stressful events without internalizing them.
I thought about clinicians’ lack of time. What if we deconstructed mindfulness practice into small habits? For example, through introducing mindfulness into daily tasks to build the habit of mindful awareness. When mindfulness becomes a habit, it helps manage stress, reduces mistakes, and ultimately invites joy into medicine and life.
Since 2019, I’ve taught about 7,000 healthcare professionals how to bring mindfulness into their lives through small habits. Here are three to try:
1. Mindful hand washing.
While washing your hands, become aware of the physical sensation of water against your skin. Feel the temperature. Listen to the sound of running water. Smell the soap. Watch the bubbles and water flow. Visualize your worries washing away. If a stubborn thought emerges, notice that too. Revert your attention back to the sound and smell. This helps you stay in the present, trains the mind to notice distractions, and gives you a chance to refocus.
2. Check in with yourself
Before a patient interaction or a meeting, become aware of your mental and physical sensations. Notice the quality of your breath, whether it’s shallow or deep. Check in with the mind, whether it feels foggy or clear. Ask yourself if you’re feeling any emotions. Name your primary emotion. Finally, discern any muscle tightness throughout the body. This habit helps you understand your baseline state before engaging in an interaction.
3. Take three deep breaths.
Begin and end your day with three deep belly breaths. Punctuate your day with three breaths around lunch. Notice any thoughts that pop up during this practice and refocus the mind on the sensation of breath. This habit helps calm the nervous system and trains the mind to stay focused on the breath.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.