Medical school can be hard. There is an enormous amount of information that you have to absorb. You have to plan your time carefully and far in advance in order to meet deadlines. You have to navigate relationships with teachers, attending physicians, peers and patients. Stress (and sometimes distress) is common. To become the physician that you want to become, you need to learn to manage and thrive in this stressful environment. In some medical students, ignoring stress and distress can lead to a loss of empathy for patients, and, in some cases, burnout.
The science is now in: practice in mindfulness meditation decreases stress and can help you avoid the negative outcomes of burnout and loss of empathy. Mindfulness practice can also help you study more efficiently and retain more information from class lectures. It can increase your quality of life and, in some people, it protects against depression. And of all of these effects are founded upon changes in basic brain structures and function.
Brief mindfulness meditation sessions are offered every Monday at 12PM in the 4th floor Wellness Center. Students may come late or leave early. Beginners and drop-ins are always welcome.
The mindfulness practice involves learning how to focus directly on sensations of the body and breath during sitting meditation, walking meditation (eg., focus on sensations in the bottom of the feet) and mindfulness meditation in everyday life (mindfulness of eating, mindfulness of daily activities such as washing the dishes). These mindful awareness exercises help you stay in the present moment and are especially useful when you are feeling bombarded by your own stress.
Specifically, the practice helps you in at least three ways:
- The practice helps you calm the mind by “turning down the volume” on repetitive, stressful thoughts.
- The practice trains your attentional “muscle” by teaching you to return your attention to the breath when mind has wandered.
- The practice teaches you to be able to observe your own reaction to stress and stressful thoughts with self-compassion and a kind, relaxed attitude.
The larger goals of our mindfulness-wellness program are help you to
- improve your quality-of-life and decrease stress related to studying and retaining large amounts of information required to pass examinations
- give you more control over your mind’s “attentional spotlight” so that it is not hijacked by repetitive, reactive, stressful thought loops (repetitive stressful negative thoughts about work or about relationships)
- bring equanimity and compassion to your decision-making process
- promote and maintain empathy for patients
Ultimately we want to help you build the skills that will return the power of choice to your everyday thoughts and moods, allowing you to shape yourself into the physician you want to be. Through practice you can develop a healthy mind and bring these healthful skills with you throughout your entire life.