5 Point Physician Mindfulness Matrix
Stress is a common feature in the lives of many American citizens, whether it is due to our career, financial situation, or family life. Studies show that 3 out of 4 Americans experience stress at levels that cause them to experience a range of stress related physical symptoms. Although we treat symptoms of stress daily, physicians are not immune to the effects of stress. Several studies are now showing that at least 1 in 3 physicians experience symptoms of stress and burnout.
The impact of this stress causes a lowered job satisfaction level, a decreased sense of work-life balance, decreased productivity and conflicts at work and home. Furthermore, stress can impact a physician’s physical health causing insomnia, general tiredness, depression, anxiety and more. Physician stress and burnout also has a trickle effect on patient care. Increased medical errors, and decreased patient satisfaction and adherence, are an indirect impact of physician depersonalization and stress. Given the impact, learning how to deal with and even diffuse stress is imperative for physicians today. Learning how to listen and respond to the body's emotions and the physical signs of stress will give you a better chance at correcting the problem before it has a major impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Dealing with stress properly can increase the proper functioning of the immune response, improve mood, improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety levels and leave physicians with an overall increased sense of well-being that will translate into improved performance and satisfaction. Here are 5 areas that are essential to address in order to prevent burnout. If you use this 5 point mindfulness matrix to check in with yourself daily, you can eliminate the possibility of stress taking control of your life. 1. Mind Your Mind Our minds are the most powerful tools for eliminating stress and creating an empowering context for life. First, we must be willing to create a new view of life. Second, we must be willing to take on practices that will not only nurture, but also quiet our minds. With a clear mind, we can be clear and present to take on whatever responsibilities that are necessary in life. There are several ways to quiet the mind. 2. Mind Your Body As the cliché saying goes, "our body is our temple" so why would you not take care of it while you are inhabiting it. Taking care of yourself physically contributes to your ability to experience the highest quality of life. We physicians often have the same challenges as our patients, overeating, under-exercising, and succumbing to the stresses of life. However, we also can abuse our bodies in ways different from the typical population. With a tendency towards long hours, little sleep, and a high pressured environment, our bodies have the potential to breakdown if we do not take care of them the way we ask our patients to. 3. Mind Your Spirit While we may know consciously that taking care of our mind and body is important, we sometimes overlook the importance of the spiritual connection. When I speak of spiritual connection, I'm not talking necessarily about religious practice, although that may be a part of it. The spiritual connection is that access to the eternal that you find in whatever means or method speak to you. Whether you find this access through art, meditation, or church, nurturing this connection can give you a sense of joy, serenity and peace of mind not found in other sources. 4. Mind Your Connections Pulling from another corny cliché "no man is an island." As physicians, we didn't get to where we are without being determined, driven, and self-sufficient. However, you may recognize that this type of independence can come with a cost to our relationships. At the end of the day, we are the company we keep, and our quality of life partially rests in the hands of those relationships that we choose to nurture. We are social beings by nature and emotional connections are paramount to every aspect of our lives. The health benefits of social and emotional connections are backed by research, however knowing makes no difference. Reaching out to others, or allowing others to connect on a deeper level to you, is a practice that takes courage and needs to be prioritized. Whether by phone, or in person, a soothing voice can dissolve stressful feelings in difficult times. Connecting can be as simple as a stimulating conversation, or as appropriately intimate as a hug with someone whom you have rapport with at home or work. Don't underestimate the need for connections with people. 5. Mindful Contribution Most of us as physicians went into medicine to help others in some way. We weren't warned about all of the challenges that being a doctor could bring. It's easy to forget the role we play, not only to our patients, but to resident physicians and doctors in training. In fact, we often forget the contribution we can give to our families, our communities, and our industry. It takes being mindful of who we are as a contributor, to find fulfillment and satisfaction in what we do on a day-to-day basis. If we remember that we are making important contributions, even when it doesn't feel like it, the difficult days will be more palatable. In addition, we must remind each other (our colleagues) of their value as well. Your acknowledgement to colleagues, staff, and even patients using a kind word, is more than you will ever know. Physicians are pillars in the community and we will never see the full extent of our contributions within our lifetime. Our contributions are like ripples in a stream, which feeds into a river, which feeds into an ocean. Our acts and words of encouragement, empowerment, and loving kindness may be subtle, but lead into powerful places that have endless depth and breadth. As earlier alluded, minding our mind, body, spirit, connection and value is a practice that calls for prioritization in our lives in order to effectively prevent burnout and connect with a life of complete fulfillment and satisfaction; a life free from circumstances and stress. The 5 point stress elimination matrix has more specific steps to bring this mindfulness to action in each area that we have discussed above. The take home point is that putting structures into practice for checking in with ourselves in these areas is practical mindfulness that will ensure that our cup remains full-filled.