In times of stress, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode. By practicing mindfulness each day, we can reduce our stress and increase our happiness. In doing so, we can become better students, teachers and healthcare providers.
"We are in a very uncertain environment right now," said Binata Mukherjee, M.D., director of healthcare leadership initiatives at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.
Mukherjee describes this environment as VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. "When we have a huge pandemic like COVID-19, for medical educators and healthcare workers, it can make VUCA even stronger."
During crisis, cortisol floods the brain and stimulates the amygdala, the "alarm bell" or emotional hub of the brain, she explained. Cortisol also kills the neurons in the hippocampus, which would normally help to calm down the amygdala.
"This state is often referred to as the 'amygdala hijack,'" she said. "We lose our ability to think clearly and are often taken over by emotions."
One of the best ways to reduce these feelings of distress is to practice experiential mindfulness. Mukherjee describes it as paying attention to our actual experiences – what is actually happening right now – and noticing the push-and-pull quality of our experiences.
"Something that is pleasant in our experience, we want to continue and so we try to hold on to it. Something unpleasant, we want to go away so we try to push it away," she said. "Mindfulness is paying attention, noticing that push and pull."
When we bring awareness to our situations, Mukherjee said, we can avoid being "sucked into them."
"We can simply be with them. When we are not caught up, there is tremendous relief for the mind," she said.
Mukherjee offers the following resources for practicing mindfulness:
- The USA Recreation Center hosts virtual meditation sessions via Zoom on Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m. People are welcome to join any time they are available and are not obliged to stay for the entire duration. Sessions are facilitated by Binata Mukherjee, M.D., and Nena Nimit, M.D.
- Healthline: Box Breathing
- Institute for Healthcare Improvement: 10 Mindfulness Exercises for the Health Care Workplace
- Institute for Healthcare Improvement: Incorporating Mindfulness Into Clinical Practice (Online Course)