The additional pressure of COVID-19 has aggravated an already stressed healthcare system. Systemic changes must occur to better care for patients — and dental care providers. But systemic change can be slow, even beyond a pandemic. Until then, what can you do? How can you take care of yourself so you can take care of others? The answer could be as simple as becoming more mindful.
Posted in Dental Insights on Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Mindfulness: More than a Buzzword?
The word “mindfulness” is getting a lot of attention, but it’s been part of the human experience since ancient times. In recent decades, mindfulness has morphed into stress reduction practices, such as the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, popularized in the West in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is the act of becoming aware of the present moment. Our minds often become stuck thinking about things that happened in the past or may happen in the future. Mindfulness is about being aware, moment by moment, of your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, physical sensations and environment.
Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “The awareness that arises when we non-judgmentally pay attention in the present moment. It cultivates access to core aspects of our own minds and bodies that our very sanity depends on.”
Practicing mindfulness is physically and psychologically beneficial and is associated with health, attitude and behavioral improvements. Mindfulness improves a practitioner’s well-being, thereby improving patient safety and reducing incidents of errors that lead to claims.
Is Mindfulness Feasible for Busy Professionals?
Kabat-Zinn’s eight-week MBSR program has been found to effectively improve resident practitioner personal and work-related well-being — a typically highly stressed and highly burdened group.
In a small German study1, nine resident practitioners assessed the feasibility of an eight-week mindfulness program. Researchers studied demand, acceptability, implementation, practicality, adaptation, integration and preliminary effectiveness domains.
Using a biomarker of stress, they examined participants’ hair cortisol level changes, as well as self-reported well-being increases. Given the resident’s lifestyle, researchers accounted for “the complex interplay of specific work stressors, personality traits and maladaptive attitudes that account for residents’ distress.” Citing perfectionism, workaholism and self-care neglect, researchers focused on improving well-being and attitude (i.e., not symptom relief or improved performance, due to fears that high-achieving residents would use mindfulness to optimize performance).
Medium-to-high improvements were observed in personal well-being, including the participants’ perceived stress and self-compassion. Small-to-medium improvements were observed with job strain, burnout and practitioner empathy. Additionally, medium reductions were noted in hair cortisol.
Mindfulness vs Meditation: What’s the Difference?
Mindfulness is the state of being. It means you’re focused on the present moment and are aware of your thoughts, beliefs, sensations, feelings and environment. Meditation is the practice of being mindful. It’s the thing you “do” to practice “being” in the moment. It typically refers to the formal practice of sitting and minding your breath or using mantras to guide your focus.
While meditation is a strong component of a mindfulness practice, there are other ways to practice mindfulness. This includes becoming aware of your breath, scanning your body to feel its sensations, and recognizing that thoughts do not define you. A mindfulness practice can be as simple as remembering to come back to your five senses throughout the day.
Continue: Three Benefits of Mindfulness