Mindfulness for Healthcare Workers During COVID

Accessible mindfulness practices and meditations for healthcare workers.

Mindfulness for healthcare workers

With heartfelt appreciation, we offer healthcare providers these practical tools for staying resilient during the stressful and uncertain days and weeks ahead. Preparing for this long engagement of healthcare service—both mentally and physically—means carving out whatever time we can to sustain ourselves.

Our hope at Mindful is to provide you with realistically accessible mindfulness practices during these physically and emotionally demanding times. The front lines for health care providers may feel overwhelming. Please use these practices freely, and often.

We wish you all health, strength, and resilience over the upcoming days.

A Mindfulness Practice for Healthcare Workers During COVID from Dr. Mark Bertin

Transcription of the guided practice:

First, there is no single practice that is going to change the fact that we’re all living under immense stress and anxiety right now. The intention of mindfulness is to help us develop the skills that will allow us to navigate through times just like this.

When our minds become exhausted and overwhelmed—as stressful thoughts lead to more stressful thoughts, and we get caught up in fear and anxiety (and we’re tired)— we create a mental state that has a lot of chaos to it. That’s when turning to mindfulness practice can help us settle, help us get out of all that thinking for a moment. We can try to settle down and maybe give ourselves a little rest or see a situation with a little different clarity.

A Breath Counting Practice For Stress

This is a counting practice, for those times when we’re feeling really unsettled and really off.

  1. Find yourself a comfortable posture (or you can do this standing). Pick a place you can be still for just a moment and then lower your gaze. Shut your eyes if that’s appropriate and you’re comfortable with it.
  2. Begin to recognize that there is a physical motion with each breath. Tune in to that sensation of breathing, not because we’re trying to do anything with our breath. But just because it’s always there, so it can be an anchor for your awareness. Your thoughts will continue. Recognize that. It’s okay.
  3. Come back to your breath each time you’re aware of that distraction. And back to the next breath again. Breathing in and breathing out.
  4. You can count your breaths. Counting up to seven breaths. And then if you find your way to seven, starting over with one.
    • So, breathing in, one. Breathing out, one.
    • Breathing in, two. And breathing out, two.
    • And if you lose touch with the counting, that’s fine, too, starting over wherever you last remember.
  5. For a few moments of practice, there is nothing to do, nothing to fix. And letting go of any sense of striving or trying to make yourself feel any different than you do.
    • Just breathing in and breathing out.
  6. And when you’re ready opening your eyes, bring your awareness back to the moment.

A practice like that isn’t meant to make you feel anything in particular. It’s an opportunity to carve out a few moments for yourself, to bring yourself back from all the different places your mind has gone through the day. And hopefully, a practice like that can become something intuitive, something available to you anytime you need it. as you practice, it might be something you can do for a longer stretch of time once a day.

Certainly, the bigger premise with mindfulness practice is that by practicing regularly over time, it becomes part of our life. We develop almost a trait where we can fall back on it in moments of stress. But that practice is also something you can use multiple times in the day, no matter how busy your day is. Taking seven breaths, or you can do 15 breaths, can be a way to catch a moment and bring your awareness back.

Let your brain settle for just a minute. Give yourself a little rest. Even during the busiest day, fifteen breaths usually takes about a minute.

The Stress Breath Practice

The stress breath can be used to help ground you in moments of stress or anxiety. This description of the practice comes from the Holistic Life Foundation.

The 3 Basic Elements of the Stress Breath

  1. Fog the mirror: The most important thing about this breath is that it’s audible. Take your hand and hold it up in front of your mouth and act like it’s a mirror that you’re fogging up. So, you’re exhaling with a haaaaaaaa sound as if you’re fogging a mirror.
  2. Make it audible: Now, do the same thing, but only have your mouth open for two seconds and then close your mouth while still pushing out the same way—but now push out through your nose. Practice making that same sound as you inhale, so the sound comes from the back of your throat (almost like a Darth Vadar breath). 
  3. Hold and lock: The HLF twist on the stress breath happens during the pause between the inhale and exhale. When you inhale, hold your breath, and then lower your chin to your chest. Hold there for a count of five and then lift your head as you exhale. Let’s put it all together…

The Stress Breath Practice

  1. Inhale nice and deep, using the “fog the mirror” technique, so the sound is vibrating at the back of your throat.
  2. Hold your breath and your bring your chin down to your chest.
  3. Count back from five.
  4. Exhale (audibly through your nose) while you bring your head up.
  5. That’s one cycle. Do twelve in a row, if you can, during the day and then again at nighttime.

[email protected] – Mindfulness for Healthcare Workers

Other Free Resources for Healthcare Professionals:

We’ll be curating resources here specifically for healthcare workers. (If you know of anyone serving free mindfulness practices or mental health resources for healthcare workers, please let us know in the comments.)

1) The Center for Mindfulness, The Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion, and Compassion Institute

The UCSD Center for Mindfulness, The Sanford Institute, and the Compassion Institute are working together to provide daily streams and recordings of mindfulness and compassion sessions to provide resources and online support to those affected. Visit their Mindfulness and Compassion Resource page.

2) The Mindful Healthcare Collective

Mindful Healthcare Collective is a group of women physicians who are healthcare professional wellness experts. They are providing free online interactive and experiential Zoom sessions for debrief and mindfulness/compassion meditation offerings. Here’s an Awareness of Breath Practice from Dr. Ni-Cheng Liang, Executive Director Director of Pulmonary Integrative Medicine at Coastal Pulmonary Associates, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and Adviser to the UCSD Center of Mindfulness.

3) VitalTalk

VitalTalk is a nonprofit comprised of clinicians who empower clinicians to communicate about serious illnesses empathetically and effectively, enabling them to feel less burned out in the process. They’ve put together a COVID Communications Playbook to help healthcare workers handle difficult conversations that we never expected—or wanted—to have.

4) Greater Good Science Center

The Greater Good Science Center is offering a free two-day online summit to provide health professionals with science-informed strategies to enhance and transform their personal and occupational lives. Geared for physicians, nurses, therapists, psychologists, and social workers, the institute includes two half-day sessions May 2 and 3, and can help you find renewed resilience, connection, and purpose.

(We’ll be updating this section as we learn of more COVID-specific mindfulness resources for healthcare providers)

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COVID Resources

8 Ways Healthcare Workers Can Reduce Stress 

Dr. Reena Kotecha and Dr. Chris Willard offer a collection of quick tips to help other healthcare professionals rediscover moments of calm and self-care, even during a grueling work day. Read More 

  • Christopher Willard and Reena Kotecha
  • November 24, 2020
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Mindful Staff

Mindful Staff editors work on behalf of Mindful magazine and Mindful.org to write, edit and curate the best insights, information, and inspiration to help us all live more mindfully.