Mindfulness in the Medical Student

• What is mindfulness?
• A real-world application
• Why should you be more mindful?

Mindfulness. If you had a psychology class in undergrad, you may be familiar with the term. According to GreaterGood, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”

When I first heard the definition of mindfulness in my “Stress and its Management” undergrad course, I asked myself…

• “Why does this need to be defined? “
• “Isn’t this something practice by pretty much everyone?”

As it turned out, mindfulness was something I could really use in my life. I was a pre-medical student at the time who knew how difficult it was to get into medical school. I had made the internal resolution that I had to

1. get a 4.0
2. be involved in tons of extracurriculars
3. be a well-rounded person at the same time

I wasn’t alone: I had many friends who were also pre-med, with the same resolutions that I had made for myself.

This mindset and environment was the perfect storm for a very stressed out, high-strung 20-year old. At times, I felt like I just had to keep up, with no time to really reflect on myself. I was on-the-go constantly, going straight from class to my volunteering position at the hospital. I was constantly on my phone, getting updates from student orgs and catching up on emails.

Now, back to that lecture in my psychology class. We proceeded to do our first deep-breathing exercise, with instructions to sit relaxed in our seats, feet flat on the floor, hands resting on our thighs. Above all, we were instructed to focus only on our breath, taking care to bring ourselves back to the present exercise if our minds wandered.

I’ll be honest: I thought it was ridiculous. Here we were at 9 am on a Monday, turning the lights down in our lecture hall, closing our eyes. It sounded like nap time to me. Our professor knew this was on our minds, cautioning us to stay awake during the exercise.

She proceeded to guide us through a deep-breathing exercise. I won’t go into too much detail, but I opened my eyes after that 3 minute exercise feeling so refreshed. It was also a time that forced me to just slow down, reflect on myself, and be present. It was liberating to say the least.

While I could be more consistent in incorporating mindfulness into my life, I will say that it has already impacted my life to a measurable degree. I am empowered to be more aware of when I am stressed, pinpoint what is overwhelming me, and find ways to minimize my stressors. Not only will mindfulness benefit me, but it will also help me provide optimal care and attention to my future patients.

As medical school on, the challenge to incorporate mindfulness may seem a little more daunting. My schedule’s busier, my days are longer, and the work is harder. But I’m up for the challenge. I hope you are too! Consider incorporating mindfulness into your daily life.

Before you leave this post, I challenge you to take 12 minutes and practice mindfulness and see its impact! Here’s a great video that can walk you through a mindfulness exercise. I’d suggest closing your eyes and following the video with your ears. (Leave a comment and share your thoughts after!)