Mindfulness: How health care workers can manage stress

Mindfulness practices can help in the midst of COVID-19 care

The silhouette of a woman standing in front of a window holding a cup of coffee, in a possible pose of mindfulness

Many health care professionals are on the front lines working extended hours and risking their own health in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The uncertainty the virus brings, the risk of being exposed and making difficult decisions is creating extreme levels of anxiety and stress for those in the health care industry.

One of the ways to help manage the stress is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of meditation where individuals take in moment-to-moment experiences as they come. It’s about noticing your thoughts and feelings, without judgment and without reacting to them.

Mindfulness practices won’t stop the spread of COVID-19. They won’t reduce the amount of overtime, on-call days or patient inquiries. They won’t make groceries (or toilet paper) appear on shelves in local supermarkets. And they won’t give you the hug you need during a time of social distancing. But they can help in important ways.

Better stress management

Not surprisingly, stress is often amplified by work-related pressures — overwhelming workloads, long hours and not taking enough mental breaks. Nearly 80% of Americans say they experience stress during their daily lives, and that’s during “normal” times.

It may be difficult for health care professionals to slow down or take a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for physicians and nurses. However, research does show incorporating mindfulness techniques can have a positive influence on stress. Encourage your colleagues and employees to do so as much as possible.

Improved mental and physical health

Along with an impact on stress levels, mindfulness can have a positive effect on other physical and mental health areas. Mindfulness techniques have been used to help:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Improve sleep
  • Boost the immune system
  • Treat depression

Related: How Sanford Health Plan can help

Five practices to try

Being mindful doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are five suggestions from Sanford Fit, a community health program by Sanford Health, to settle the mind and calm the body, any time and anywhere.

  1. Pick a color: Choose a color, any color — maybe your favorite color. Look around and find 10 objects that are this color. Pick another color and repeat.
  2. Keep a journal: This can be for personal reflection, drawing, or even creative writing. Keeping a journal can be a great form of self-expression and relaxation.
  3. Practice yoga: Using your phone, tablet or computer, you have access to a plethora of yoga videos to help stretch your muscles, get the blood moving and recharge your brain and body.
  4. “Sounds good” exercise: Sit somewhere comfortable and close your eyes. What do you hear? Many things, or just your own breathing? Focus on one sound and sway with the natural rhythm.
  5. Savor what you consume: Drink your coffee, and really taste it. Experience the full sensation — the warmth, the scent, the feeling. Share in a mindful moment the same way with your family over dinner. Talk about your experiences together, and see if one of you notices something the others didn’t.

Enhanced focus, memory and thinking skills

Health care professionals need the mental strength and resiliency to handle the unique situations they’re experiencing with COVID-19. Keeping intense focus, delivering efficient care and making meaningful connections with patients while being at their best can be extremely challenging.

A main goal of mindfulness is to remain focused on the present and attempt to free our minds from past events or anxiety about the future. Practicing mindfulness helps achieve this and improves other cognitive functions, such as learning, attention, problem-solving and decision-making.

While they appreciate the great meaning of their work, particularly in a time like this, clinicians’ ability to disconnect and recharge is even more critical than it is for others when it comes to how they view work environments and feel as employees.

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Posted In Behavioral Health, Coronavirus, Wellness

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