Mindfulness: What Is It and How Can You Use It?
“Mindfulness” seems to be all the buzz for decreasing stress and increasing productivity.
“Mindfulness” seems to be all the buzz for decreasing stress and increasing productivity but what is it exactly? How do I use it? Does practicing it automatically make me a hipster??
Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention. Especially as health care professionals, we are used to (and cannot perform well without) doing a multitude of things at once: counseling patients, answering the phones, consulting with our co-workers, managing our teams, documenting our interactions … the list never ends! What about outside of work? Is living that way all the time, in every situation healthy for us in the long-term? No? You super sleuth!
The act of mindfulness is literally making an effort to focus only on one thing. You read me right: monotasking. The data point to real-life benefits that this practice can afford your life, even when you’re NOT actively practicing mindfulness (ahem, at the pharmacy), if you commit to making this a habit in your regular repertoire.
Where is the proof? The American Psychological Association cites mindfulness as “a hopeful strategy for alleviating depression, anxiety, and pain.” It doesn’t stop there: this mental movement can moderate the brain’s amygdala, that classic “fight or flight” response center, based on research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. In essence, practicing mindfulness will allow you to not excessively stress out over not-so-life-threatening events like choosing where to eat dinner (Chipotle is the clear answer anyway).
Methods to Mindfulness
Ok, so we’ve set it straight that mindfulness has evidence-based benefits that we can use (and desperately need). How can we become more “mindful”?
o You don’t have to spend hours a day to get the benefit of this activity; you can start with just 10 minutes a day! Get a feel for the exercise and build from there: research from a 2014 study at Carnegie Mellon found three, 25-minute meditation sessions could alleviate stress.
o New to the art of meditation? There are plenty of free apps that will guide you through the process! My top 4 would be Headspace, Calm, Whil, and Insight (if you’re more advanced). Headspace is the best place to start, in my opinion.
• Deep rhythmic breathing
o This might seem simple, but do NOT underestimate this amazing tool. You can even do it amidst the cray cray hustle bustle at work if you feel your stress levels climbing too high. Trust me: I am speaking from experience!
o There are many methods out there, but the basic concept or ‘outline’ is this:
• Inhale deeply and slowly in through your nose, with the purpose and mindset of completely filling your lungs with air
• Pause for a brief moment, holding your breath
• Exhale deeply and slowly through your mouth, with the purpose and mindset of emptying all the air from your lungs
• *If you are able to (ie not in the midst of a stressful scenario), count the breaths to give focus to what you are doing- making this your only objective (monotasking, see?) Count 1 with the inhale, 2 with the exhale, 3 with the inhale- up to a count of 10, then repeat PRN
o Focusing on what you are thankful for is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to kickstart your positivity! Start your day off by physically writing down all that you are thankful for in your life. BONUS: have a loved one? Do this with them: they will benefit, and will likely point out blessings you have that you may have overlooked ?
• Exercise: yoga and tai chi especially
o You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to get the benefits from exercise: you can even start with 10-minute intervals if you’re super crunched for time! Keep it going and build form there: research from the University of California, San Francisco has shown that 42 minutes of vigorous activity over a 3-day period can reduce stress on your telomeres- that’s right, preventing aging at the cellular level!
o “Sleep is the best meditation.” —the Dalai Lama
o Having some trouble hitting the hay? The root cause may be in your sleep hygiene — yes, there is such a thing! Ambien isn’t always the answer (that’s coming from a pharmacist). There is a whole host of tips and tricks for this all-too-common issue, so stay tuned for an article dedicated solely to this topic!
Hopefully you now can see the importance that mindfulness can play in your mental mojo- and how you can improve yours!
Always consult with your health care provider before beginning any exercise regimen. For more stress-busting tips and ways to become TheFitPharmacist, check out https://www.thefitpharmacist.com