I was inspired to write this post after I read an article in American Medical News (Using mindfulness to soothe physician stress; by Kelvin B. O’Reilly) about physicians using mindfulness meditation classes to minimize burnout and maintain empathy for their patients.
The article ends with a series of great tips for improving mindfulness and reducing stress and many of these focus on the time spent commuting to and from work, which the author describes as “brackets of the day”. Women often have more difficulty compartmentalizing their day than men do. At least, they complain about it more. Using these ideas to bracket your day can help you to be more present in the task at hand. While a natural ability to multitask can be a good thing, it is stressful to be thinking about the baby while you are trying to write a proposal, or thinking about a patient while your toddler wants you to play or your teen wants to talk (believe me, it happens. A lot.) Busy working women with families can benefit from this sort of focus, regardless of their profession. Here are 3 ideas to get you started.
1. Work clothes for work, play clothes for play, sleep clothes for sleep. The act of putting on clothes prepares you for putting on your role. When you get dressed for work, your professional suit is the armor you wear into your day. It announces that you are here to work. It announces your status in the group. These are good things, and help to focus your mind on the day. When you come home, no matter how stressful your day has been, changing out of pantyhose and heels and into comfy play clothes is literally taking off your day. You are changing into Mommy, and giving yourself a few moments to allow your mind to catch up. Finally, don’t sleep in your regular clothes or exercise togs. Sleep in things you have designated for that purpose, that are comfortable and soft. Put on your pajamas, and you will automatically begin to relax, your mind will prepare itself for sleep.
2.Devise a ritual. Rituals are an easy way to focus your attention. Doctors do this when they scrub for surgery. The scrub sink is a great place to take a moment and think through the surgery you are about to perform, recall what you know about the patient, and line up the specific things you will need to do for her. Scrubbing is highly ritualized, and nearly every surgeon always scrubs the same way each time, with the same soap, starting with the same hand, and even the same finger. You may need a ritual for arriving at work, putting your pencils in order, checking your calendar, etc. Giving yourself 5 minutes to complete your ritual before diving headfirst into the problems of the day gives you a calm, unhurried attitude, that will be apparent to your patients, clients, and coworkers. Ritualize certain other tasks too, like checking your email or signing reports, so that they don’t distract you from other tasks that require more thought and time. When you come home, rituals also have a place. We eat dinner together as a family, and the ritual of feeding the dogs, setting the table, lighting the candles and saying grace brings us together to enjoy even a mediocre midday meals (and nearly all of mine are mediocre, sadly). Even the dogs understand this and race to their places when we all sit down and grace begins.
3. Pray. Prayer is an act of focusing your mind. I believe when we pray, the act of talking to God also helps us to focus on the problem at hand. Prayer before surgery, prayer before driving, prayer before a difficult conversation, at minimum quiets the mind and helps you to say and do the right thing. Some think this is the Holy Spirit, telling them what to do. Others think this is just what happens in meditation. I think it works, whatever it is. When I have prayed before an action, I have always known what I needed to do. The problem is remembering to pray in the first place. However, with more mindfulness, this becomes more second nature.