A study has been done in what happens to human physiology when they experience relentless focus and a high expectation to maintain professionalism and enthusiasm for learning in the setting of sleep deprivation. It’s called a 6-week rotation in General Surgery. Having just finished my own, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what plan I could write to help my colleagues reduce the overall stress of the experience.
Considering I’m not allowed to write for drugs yet, I’d like to propose another strategy. An hour of meditation each day would certainly make the world of medicine a better place, but that would require a 25-hour day since we’re already booked. Instead, let’s start with taking the in-between moments and converting them into mini mindfulness sessions:
1. When you are watching a resident type into a computer, or waiting for a lecture to start, or walking between patients’ rooms, take three deep breaths. If this isn’t enough to steal away your thoughts, count the seconds inhaling and exhaling. Try to make your exhale longer. If you are still distracted, imagine the seconds flashing before your eyes in different colors. There! You gave your mind a break from its process.
2. If you can sneak away into a hallway or bathroom for a few minutes, pop in headphones and listen to a song! I know you have your Smartphone with you.
3. Stretch, and mentally repeat the phrase: “I am [inhale] / at peace [exhale].”
The goal of these sessions is multifaceted: physical, spiritual, mental well-being. The most compelling, I suspect, for my audience is the physical. You are attempting to reverse the stress response for a short time and bring your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tone down. Eventually the goal is to teach yourself to perform what is expected of you at a lower stress level, so that you get to the point at which you complete eliminate your need for sleep and food at all. Kidding. But you will likely feel better by the end of the day, and have more energy to expend when you get home to exercise, cook your own food, or study effectively! Use yourself as an experiment and try mini mindfulness out this week.