Think About It…
Happy 2021! For the start of the year I want to step away from political policy and focus on a health topic this week. For many, the start of the new year consists of a resolution, usually in the interest of self-improvement. This week, I too want to focus on self-improvement but not in the form of eating less dessert, or working out, but rather our mental health. I want to take a deep dive into mindfulness. To truly explore this topic I’m going to do so through my own personal experience and encourage you to do so as well after reading this…
I recently had a conversation with a friend, colleague and in reality, my boss, about how I was doing. This is someone whose home I have visited, whose wedding I attended and from time to time we play music together. All this to say, the conversation was on a deeper level than just a colleague or a boss checking in on an employee. I look up to him as a mentor and often seek his advice and counsel. This particular evening our conversation drifted to our mental health. This has been a stressful time to work in the healthcare field. At the start of our conversation he had aptly pointed out that healthcare is a difficult environment at its base because you are constantly being challenged, evaluated and critiqued publicly, which can be draining. We were discussing ways to help ourselves and colleagues adjust and manage this stress and feedback when we stumbled upon a YouTube video about how to project confidence. The video suggested that confident people are not “reactionary,” meaning they don’t have an outsized and quick response to a good or bad situation, but rather temper their emotions so that they can make a good decision moving forward. Now for anyone who knows me it is very obvious that I fit into that “reactionary” category, not in a rude or angry way but I can definitely move quickly to establish just what my response is to a certain situation.
The more I thought about this video the more I wanted to know how to become less reactionary, less rash, more thoughtful… Mindful. I asked my friend what he might suggest to help me with this. I divulged that I was frequently stressed and often felt the need to seek approval of others both personally and professionally. In my life I had prided myself on being “coachable,” taking criticism and advice well, but the truth is that somewhere in the start of my professional life I had lost that. My pride was falsely placed in an attribute I wasn’t so sure I still possessed. In response, he suggested I try practicing mindfulness and meditation. In doing this, the next time a senior cardiologist called to yell at me for the way I managed one of his patients, I could internalize, identify and address the urge to justify my actions in an argumentative way. Something that would neither be productive, or useful in the management of a sick patient or in garnering the respect of this supervising physician.
Mindfulness: “A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
Many of us go through our day without reflecting on how our surroundings and events truly affect us. I know this to be true about myself. Thinking about my conversation with my friend, I decided to spend the next few days if not months practicing brief meditation and mindfulness to see how it would resonate with me. There is significant research that meditation each day can lead to happier and healthier lives. For one example, reference this study by Polk et al. which showed improvements in blood pressure, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome in those who practiced meditation. The study is linked below:
Confession, I have only been on this new adventure for 4 days. My practice of mindfulness and meditation is not elaborate. It consists of 3 minutes mid-morning of silence, deep breathing and a quick self-reflection of “where I am at today.” I was admittedly very skeptical but I figured that I spend way more than 3 minutes each day scrolling through social media, so if something that would require the time it takes to make popcorn could help me live a happier and healthier life I should probably give it a shot. Here is what I have found…
I definitely have a hard time sitting still and I have little control over my thoughts and daydreaming. This is probably why I work in emergency medicine because there is always something new to occupy my attention! I definitely thought this practice was bogus and a waste of time. I was willing to give it a week… Right up until something interesting happened. It was on the third day of my integration of 3-minute meditation when I encountered my first benefit. My wife had just returned home from a long day of teaching 4th grade. I had taken the day to go to the gym, do some business tasks and of course take a nap, having just finished a stretch of 5 nights in a row at the ER. What I had not done was make dinner or do the dishes… not a great move by the husband. Rightfully agitated my wife and I started to argue, probably an argument that any spouse has had, when I noticed myself noticing me. I realized my heart rate had increased slightly and that I was getting defensive and agitated even though I was in the wrong, thus only furthering our argument. Having realized this, I quickly took a reversal on my initial position and said, “Honey I’m sorry, I know you have worked hard all day and that I should have gotten the dishes done but I promise I will do them tonight so you don’t have to and I recognize how frustrating this must be for you and I’ll be sure to do a little better.”
I think this took my wife by surprise because she was prepped for an argument but instead gave me an oddly angry kiss and said cheekily, “That was sweet, but I already chose anger so take it or leave it.” It wasn’t until later that night after she had gone to bed that I realized what had happened. I was briefly able to check in with myself about how I was feeling and actually implement a course correction based off of that. A small step and one that sounds like any mature adult should be able to do, but think back about how often you get angry at traffic or the grocery store being out of your favorite cereal. Our lives are full of frustrations and challenges large and small. I am excited to continue my 3 minutes of daily meditation and more importantly bring that to my workplace where stress and challenges are abundant.
The Business of Meditation:
If you are looking to implement mindfulness or meditation into your day, don’t fret because there are a host of start-ups and applications to help you! Mobile apps such as Headspace and Calm have taken big commercial stances supporting their “freemium” products, including a multi-million-dollar Superbowl advertisement. With most of the world being stuck in quarantine, these companies have made a huge bet on there being an increase in stress, combined with the comforts and extra time at home and are looking to capitalize on it. While I don’t endorse any particular product or service to provide meditation, I do think that if we are willing to pay $10 a month for Spotify music or Netflix it would be interesting to see how investing in our mental and physical health through meditation would impact our happiness.
For me, I have already seen in a short time that mindfulness has helped me become less reactionary and ultimately more confident and calmer when the situation needs it most! I plan to continue this practice for as long as I continue seeing the benefit and return on my time, I suggest you give it a try! This has only been a surface level coverage on meditation and mindfulness and there is plenty of info out there! Be sure to do some more exploring and find something that works for you!
Last week we sent out a brief survey on how we could improve this letter. I wanted to give you another chance to fill it out and help tailor The Political Muse into the service and product most helpful for you!
Ben Velardi, Author/Founder