Picture this: you’re in the middle of an especially chaotic shift, feeling completely overwhelmed with taking care of patients, catching up on paperwork, covering for a coworker who is on vacation and that’s not all! Your mind is racing ahead to what you need to do once you get home, make something to eat, walk the dog, exercise, help your kids with their homework, and try to get those elusive 8 hours of sleep. Feeling stressed yet?
Pay attention to how you physically feel this stress in your body. You might notice your heart rate increasing, tension in your chest or shoulders, and your breathing getting more rapid and shallow. Over time, this increased stress on your body can lead to high blood pressure, a suppressed immune system, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
Burnout has been a serious problem in healthcare for a long time. For many of us, the last year has made gotten even worse with more stress, extra hours of work, and all the anxiety brought on by being on the front lines of a global pandemic. If we learned one thing throughout the last two years, it’s that many things are out of our control. So, let’s take this lesson into the new year and focus on something we can control: breathing! You’re already doing it every day, between 12 and 20 times a minute—17,000 - 30,000 times a day—without almost ever thinking or talking about it.
Something You Can Actually Do About Burnout
Burnout is a common problem for physicians. Here's how you can help manage it.
Focusing on your breath is a simple, concrete, and effective way you can manage symptoms of stress. You don’t need to go anywhere or change your schedule, and it’s 100% free. It’s something that you have direct control over that makes a big difference in the things you can’t control like a stressful day, crazy schedule, or other demands in your life. Simply focus on your breath, and how it makes your body feel. It's really that simple.
How to Practice Focusing on Your Breath
Focusing on your breath is a great way to stay mindful and manage burnout.
The best way to stick with a new habit is to find what works for you and what you actually enjoy. When you're focusing on your breath you can sit, stand, close your eyes, or leave them open. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable. You can also choose how you want to focus on your breath. You can pay attention to the sensation of air flowing in and out of your nose, feel your lungs expanding with each breath, or focus on breathing deep into your belly for an extra calming effect. Don't be afraid to experiment and find what you like.
Pay attention to what happens to your symptoms of stress. Does your heart rate start slowing down? Do you feel the tension in your shoulders easing away? Are you feeling your breath naturally deepen? After a while, you'll notice what actually helps you feel better.
Once you feel comfortable, try to practice focusing on your breath several times throughout your day. You can try setting reminders to go off throughout the day or see where it naturally fits into your schedule. This exercise is meant to be quick and easy, and won’t take a lot of time on your day. It's really about taking a second to be mindful and clear your head. You can even take it further by trying breathing techniques like alternate nostril breathing, equal breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and more.
Pay attention to what works best for you next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Want more science-backed tips to help you stay focused? Check out StudyWise.