Using mindfulness to relieve stress and physician burnout

Burnout rates among American physicians keep climbing. In 2021, Medscape reported that nearly 42% of physicians surveyed were experiencing burnout, and some specialties were higher than 50%. Researchers and practitioners alike point to several causes, such as heavy caseloads, long hours on the job, and declining work-life balance. However, there’s less consensus on the cure for burnout.

Of course, locum tenens is one option. Short-term contracts allow physicians to prioritize patient care over administrative tasks, which can be a stress-reliever. Locum tenens jobs also empower providers to take command over their schedules.

Still, there are times the clinical environment causes stress, and it’s beneficial to learn coping mechanisms that will help alleviate that stress in the moment. Research shows the practice of “mindfulness” can offer physicians a reprieve.

According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, mindfulness is defined by establishing and maintaining a “moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Being mindful means slowing down to become more cognizant of your senses, thoughts, and emotions, and using that awareness to create a calmness to cope with a situation or move ahead without dragging along built-up stress.

Therapists have incorporated mindfulness into treatment for depression and anxiety with some encouraging results. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry revealed that patients receiving mindfulness therapy were less likely to suffer a relapse of depression after 60 weeks of follow-up than individuals receiving traditional care.

The practice of mindfulness among healthcare professionals has also been examined. In one study of primary care physicians, participants reported being less anxious, stressed, and experiencing burnout. Other studies connect mindfulness with providers feeling more focused, experiencing more empathy, and feeling less emotionally exhausted.

Mindful stretching

Mastering mindfulness

So, does adopting a mindful attitude and behavior sound appealing as a preventive measure to keep burnout at bay? There are many workshops and seminars that teach the art of mindfulness, but for busy physicians, finding the time off to attend a class sometimes can act as another stressor. Rather, try out these simple steps to becoming more mindful in your day-to-day activities.

Be aware of breathing

This is probably the key factor to being mindful. Paying attention to the rhythm of breathing in and out naturally has a calming effect. It also helps clear the mind of cluttering thoughts.

Moments of meditation

Find a quiet space at home, in the car, or at the office to enjoy a moment of quiet meditation. Sit up straight, but not tensed. Place hands, palm down, on knees and begin. Focus on being in the moment. Free yourself to think about whatever comes to mind. If thoughts fleet, that’s okay. Conclude the session by acknowledging what you’re feeling and your physical reactions, then finish with a slow stretch.

Two feet, one breath

Want to give patients your full attention? Take a moment to clear your mind. Stand in front of the exam room door and concentrate on breathing. Also, focus on the simple fact that your feet are making contact with the ground. This will help you shed lingering thoughts before encountering the next patient.

Visualize goals

This can be a useful tool for the first days of locum tenens jobs when you’re confronted with a lot of new information in a short period. To keep from being overwhelmed, remind yourself about the purpose of a locum tenens professional, which is to lend aid to a facility or private practice in need of additional clinicians.

Acknowledge the positives

As with any skill, the more you practice mindfulness, the better you become at it. However, you don’t have to wait to become an expert before congratulating yourself on a job well done. Whenever you experience a positive outcome after engaging in a mindful activity, affirm your effort, knowing you’ve taken proactive steps to prevent burnout.

What do you do to relieve stress? Share your tips in the comments below.

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