As we all know, Medicine is not an easy course. There are many highs and lows throughout the years, a number of which involve many stressful moments. Having the ability to cope with the intense study requirements and heavy workload is vital for completing medical school with both good grades and fond memories! We discovered mindfulness during a 5-week course set up by our university and wanted to share our experience with others.
Mindfulness is an up and coming method for stress reduction amongst medical students which is being used in both formal and informal settings. Studies have shown that mindfulness practice in medical education has a role in stress reduction and depression (1). In short, Mindfulness practise is the art of becoming increasingly self-aware as an individual learns to live more in the moment.
We found that the different methods of mindfulness worked differently for us. One method that we really enjoyed was bringing awareness to pleasant and unpleasant events. In medical school, there is always a lot going on around us, as a result of this, we often start focusing on the more negative aspects of our lives rather than the positives. For example, when on the wards, we worry so much about getting procedures done and being signed off which can be really daunting. However, whilst completing the procedure, we never stop to think about the beneficial impact it has on our learning and professional development as well as the impact on the patient. We don’t appreciate the fact that gaining this experience boosts our confidence nor do we appreciate the help of the kind clinician who signed us off.
Mindfulness helped make us aware of these small but impactful positive experiences.
Another method of mindfulness that we liked was the Body Scan. This involved lying down on a soft mat whilst listening to either a mindfulness audio tape or to the tutor; who would speak in a calm manner as we slowly became aware of different aspects of our body. From our head to our toes we felt a new experience as we blocked out other senses to bring our thoughts simply to ourselves and our body. Although this proved to be incredibly tiring at times, especially after a long day on placement where all we wanted to do was sleep (and we did let this happen at times!), it was still an enlightening and calming experience.
An interesting exercise that we did during the mindfulness course was mindful eating. Yes, sounds funny, we know. This involves eating food whilst thinking about how it feels, smells, sounds and tastes. Mindful eating was one of the more unsuccessful yet memorable methods that we learnt. This is because, we had to hold a raisin which we then proceeded to roll between our fingers to feel the ridges and the texture. The raisin was then squeezed lightly between our fingers to appreciate the quiet sound that it made. Next, we smelled it and were surprised by the sweet fragrance that it had. Finally, we placed the raisin in our mouth and rolled it around in our mouths whilst being told not to chew in order to fight our natural auto-pilot which subconsciously makes us eat our food. As this was very funny, it did not enable us to understand the reasoning behind the activity because we were too self-conscious of looking foolish whilst listening to a raisin and disliked having to eat the raisin after having handled it for so long.
Above were a couple of examples of how mindfulness can be achieved. There are many more exercises available, a webpage on Medical News Today titled ‘Six mindfulness techniques for physicians’ mentions a few of them. Mindfulness is not only useful for us but is also used in the clinical setting for people suffering from chronic conditions which are strongly related to stress. So, we hope you think of mindfulness the next time you are in a stressful situation or even in a clinical environment thinking about different methods of patient management. We thoroughly recommend trying some of these techniques in your own time as it really is important to find some form of stress relief in the busy environment that we live and work in.
Daya, Z. and Hearn, J. (2017). Mindfulness interventions in medical education: A systematic review of their impact on medical student stress, depression, fatigue and burnout. Medical Teacher, 40(2), pp.146-153.
Medical News Today. (2018). Six mindfulness techniques for physicians. [online] Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317986.php [Accessed 24 Aug. 2018].
By Khadija Owusu, Maathu Ratnaraj and Vdhuja Sivabavanandan