Working to save people’s lives day in and day out is a stressful job, so it’s only natural that as a healthcare professional, you carry some of that tension with you wherever you go.
That’s why so many clinicians rely on meditation as a way to manage and even release some of that negative energy. For example, University of Pennsylvania’s medical school teaches a class on mindfulness, and healthcare professional wellness expert Nathalie Martinek, PhD, regularly teaches her clients about its benefits.
What are the types of meditation?
To start, Martinek, who also co-founded the SafeSpaceHealth app, explains that there are several types of meditation, so she urges anyone interested in learning about the practice figure out which kind is right for them.
Mindfulness. Martinek explains that mindfulness is all about “increasing your awareness of the world around you without judging it.” To do so, you become aware of the sensations you’re experiencing, your surroundings, the thoughts in your head, whatever strikes you in the moment. This process often leads to a meditative state.
Meditation. This is the more traditional idea of meditation, where the idea is to have a focus. This practice can be totally silent, where you sit in a room alone without any stimulation, called via negativa.
On the other hand, you can opt for via positiva, which relies on stimulation to help you direct your thoughts. This might be music, a guided meditation where a voice tells you what to think about, or just a light. You can also try breathing techniques, chanting a mantra and focusing on the sound that you’re creating.
For both meditation and mindfulness, an important thing to understand is that the goal isn’t to clear your mind or stop it from working, Martinek says. “They just make you more aware of the part of you that is objective, peaceful and calm. Meditation helps you access your objective, calm self.”
What are the benefits of meditation for healthcare professionals?
Meditation and mindfulness have been known to regulate the nervous system, and with practice, you can use these tools to enter a blissful state very quickly.
In addition, mindfulness and meditation “train your mind to not perceive things so negatively,” Martinek says. “You’re able to respond to situations in a way that’s less reactive. Peacefulness helps you regulate your own experience and emotions. It’s not about suppressing them, but being aware of what’s there.”
It also can help you reconnect with your values and fight burnout. “You’ll learn what actions you’ve taken that don’t align with your values,” Martinek explains, and then you can more easily reclaim control over the way you respond in challenging situations.
It offers benefits for your patients, too. “The patient needs someone with a calm and peaceful presence to help them feel at ease,” Martinek adds. “If you’re with an anxious practitioner, you’ll feel more anxious … You want your nervous system in regulated state. You want to have a positive contagious effect on people.”
How can you start meditating as a beginner?
Martinek offers a few easy ways to try out meditation to assure you’ll find one that works for you.
- Find a teacher or an app. “It’s good to have a teacher to support you,” Martinek says, because “sometimes you might not feel great because it’s making you more self-aware.” A good alternative if you’re seeking guidance is using an app for beginners. Martinek recommends the Smiling Mind or Headspace apps.
- Start small. “Don’t set yourself up for these big tasks,” Martinek explains. “Start with one minute. That one minute can be really powerful versus 10 minutes when your mind is all over the place.” Then you can work your away up to longer amounts of time. Just do whatever feels right for you.
- Know what you want to accomplish, but don’t have expectations. Some people want to find a sense of spirituality. Others just want to relax, and that’s all valid. The key is “not to say ‘I’m going to feel great after this,’ because you don’t know what you’re going to feel,” Martinek adds. “Don’t expect peacefulness right away.”
- Try different approaches. And make sure you’re not just trying to silence the mind “because the mind will never be silenced,” Martinek says. “It’s about accepting what’s in your mind, not buying into the negative thoughts of the mind, and becoming more aware of what’s in there.”
Last updated on 10/3/19.