Authors: Jennifer Hughes, Ph.D. (University Medical Center Trauma Psychologist), Alisha Bowker (University Medical Center Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
Do you feel burnt out? Are you overworked? Do you feel as though you are at a crossroads in life? Are you happy?
Practicing mindfulness can help anyone who experiences stress, feels overwhelmed or battles with despair. It is proven to help many patients, too – especially those who have experienced trauma — learn how to cope with physical and emotional pain.
It also benefits healthcare professionals as they cope with stress after providing care to others, connect with patients, and work improve their quality of life.
For mental health professionals, this awareness helps reduce negative emotions and anxiety, and increases their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion.
Research through Harvard University, the National Institutes of Health, and other leading healthcare agencies have shown that mindfulness can be effective, additionally, in reducing stress, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improving sleep and pain management.
Starting a mindfulness practice can be as simple as following these steps:
- Choose a specific time: Set aside a time and space each day to practice mindfulness. It can be the same time everyday or different times, whatever is best for you. Find a quiet place with few distractions and take a comfortable seat in a chair or on a pillow on the floor.
- Observe the here and now: The goal of a mindfulness practice is not to quiet the mind; in fact, our mind is made to wander, so why fight its natural instincts! Instead, set the intention of paying attention to the present, the here and now, without judgment.
- Allow your judgments to come and go: When your mind inevitably begins to wander, some of those thoughts may be judging the current situation (for better or worse). When these thoughts arise, make a mental note of their presence and let them pass, and return back to the here and now. Don’t get bogged down in the power of judgment!
- Be kind to your wandering mind: When we practice mindfulness, it can be helpful to begin by welcoming all of ourselves, including our pesky wandering mind. When your mind begins to drift away from the present moment, don’t judge it or yourself. Practice noticing those thoughts and returning to the here and now. Welcome your mind just as it is.
Mindfulness can also help with:
- Physical Pain: One of the most effective mindfulness practices to help ease physical pain is the body scan, which allows us to identify and “dive into” different body sensations. By first focusing on specific body sensations and then widening our awareness to our body as a whole can help us to identify less with our pain.
- Sleep: Mindfulness can help you relax and fall asleep through simply focusing on your breath (Learn about Mindful Breathing), completing a body scan (Body Scan Meditation), or completing a loving-kindness meditation (Compassion Meditation).
- Stress, Anxiety/Trauma, and Depression:
- Stress: mindfulness can reduce stress in the moment and give you skills that will help decrease the impact of stress in the future
- Anxiety and Trauma: Mindfulness can help the brain respond to traumatic memories in less painful and more helpful ways. This helps reduce the negative impact of traumatic events and improve overall functioning
- Depression: Mindfulness can help ease the symptoms of depression by decreasing the cycle of negative thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. It can even help to improve relationships with others through breaking these cycles
At University Medical Center New Orleans, we are working to address burnout and compassion fatigue by focusing on mindfulness and other wellness initiatives through B-WELL: a new program that aims to give back to our employees and encourage them to remember to take care of themselves.
Our advice to you?: Be mindful to work toward B(ing)-WELL.
For more information on mindfulness, check out these resources:
- Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl, Ph.D. and Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
Free Smartphone Apps
- Stop, Breathe & Think
- Insight Timer
- PTSD Coach
- Mindfulness Coach
- Headspace (Paid)