Dec 5, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Med students, it's time to channel your inner 'om' and be present. Who better than a med student to seek that moment-by-moment awareness of body, mind, and soul? When we pay attention to what we think and how we feel, not only do we achieve clearer senses of our selves, but also of others. Let's take a closer look at how med students can practice mindfulness -- and why they should.

Why is it good for med students?

1. It prevents medical blunders

Among the myriad medical high-risk issues which ironically plague doctors are stress and its natural bedfellow, sleep deprivation. Within this medical quagmire comes anxiety, depression, burnout, addiction, substance abuse, and a host of other problems.

It comes down to this: when you are stressed, you make mistakes. You get stressed out when you don't get enough sleep and don't take care of yourself. 

Want to make fewer mistakes? Start getting more sleep. Too stressed out to do that? Practice mindfulness.

2. It improves quality of care

If you present as a tired, overworked physician likely to make mistakes, you probably are. When you practice mindfulness, you can not only focus on yourself but learn to focus on the patient, too. When it comes to quality of care, that's exactly what you want.

When you're mindful, you're fully awake and aware. You're cognizant of your surroundings -- and of other people's needs.

When you can practice mindfulness to be aware of the needs of other people including yourself, you improve your delivery of care services. 

3. It encourages relaxation and reduces stress

We already told you that stress leads to mistakes. Mindfulness encourages you to relax and focus.

When you practice positive self-care by getting enough sleep, you're more likely to allow your body to focus on being mindful.

Even though med school is stressful, no one wants a stressed out doctor. Learn how to deal with the stress of the profession by practicing mindfulness now so that you'll have the tools to relax and de-stress when you have patients of your own.

How can you do it?

1. Fit it into your daily routine

Yes, we know you're busy. Make it fit. Don't have an hour? That's ok. Practice mindfulness in two or three-minute sessions. How? Find a quiet corner -- libraries are great for this -- and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Don't worry about meditating wrong. Just start getting into the practice of it. Need some help? Download an app!

2. Pay attention to your thoughts

You can do this for one minute or five. Close your eyes and watch your thoughts come and go. Ask yourself how you feel.

3. Make ordinary tasks extraordinary

Act like a little kid when you do the most mundane tasks: feel the bristles as you brush your teeth, eat lunch with your non-dominant hand, watch soap bubbles as you wash dishes.

Bottom line? Slow down. When you slow down physically, you'll slow mentally, too.

4. Practice on the go

Take regular breaks. Instead of going to the break room, step outside the lab, library, or classroom for a few minutes. Go for a short walk. If you need that cup of coffee, take a few minutes to sit with it and feel yourself drinking it.

The trick? Make yourself be in the moment, wherever you are. Move if you need.

5. Reach out to your school

Some schools have mindfulness programs. Student health services, counseling, or activities can point you in the right direction. Some of them have programs specific to medical students, too. Don't know where to start? Ask around. Sign up for a yoga class. Surprise yourself. 

Learn more about studying at medical school.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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