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Mindfulness for Pre-meds


Mindfulness for pre-meds. I'm excited to record this lesson because you students have been asking for it, and for a variety of resources to manage anxiety, for quite a while. And in this first lesson on mindfulness, I'll be offering a working definition of mindfulness. Discussing the relevance of mindfulness to pre-meds, and beyond into med school, into your career.

And then suggesting some mindful routines you can incorporate that take anywhere from 3 to 20 seconds. So first, what am I and other teachers in this series referring to when we discuss mindfulness? I like Jon Kabat-Zinn's definition. He said, mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment.

Some people talk about the three components of mindfulness, intention, attention and attitude. Intention is the why of mindfulness. It's purposeful and deliberate. Attention is the what. Attending to sensory experiences in the here and now.

And the attitude is one of being curious, nonjudging. Sometimes called beginner's mind, meaning you bring in investigative, accepting, patient quality. Most of all, being accepting of and patient with yourself. Notice that nowhere here does it say mindfulness is synonymous with meditation, or yoga, or religion.

The philosophical roots are Buddhist, but it's accessible to all lifestyles. To demonstrate, let's try a little exercise. If you're able to and if it's safe to do so right now, go ahead and bring your hands up in front of you, with your palms facing each other. And then clasp them, just interlace your fingers. Now, take a look at your hands.

Observe them. What do they look like? The texture, colors, any scars? Maybe you have short or long fingernails. Are your hands still? Are they trembling?

Which of your thumbs is on top, right or left? Wiggle your thumbs a tiny, tiny bit. How does that feel? What is the sensation in your thumbs? Pulsing, buzzing, tingling? Do your thumbs feel tense, or relaxed, or somewhere in between?

Now keeping your hands still, put your attention on your other fingers. And if you're able, close your eyes for a moment. See how that changes your awareness, just closing your eyes. And try to see, try to detect if there's more awareness in some fingers than others. Can you feel, without moving, the location of your fingers in space?

Let your inner dialogue be quiet, just in the background, soften a little bit, so you can focus more on the sensory experiences of your hands. Now, open your eyes, and look at your hands again. And very gradually clasp your hands in the other direction, so that your other thumb is on top. Now, check in with your forehead and jaw.

Sometimes just the action of reclasping your hands can cause tension in your face, or maybe your shoulders. Whatever your experience is, that's perfectly fine. Just be curious. Okay, now you can rest your hands back on your keyboard or desk or pad or paper, wherever you've been holding them.

And before we move on to the next slide, I'm gonna give you a little bit of time just to take one long, deep breath, inhale and exhale. The relevance of mindfulness for pre-meds and beyond. And I wanna take a little departure here and just share part of my own story. My first year at UCSF, that was more than 15 years ago, was a really, really stressful time.

I was a doctoral student, I was stressed to the max, working two jobs, commuting, going to school. I was financially strapped, wasn't sleeping enough. I could go on and on. But I was lucky enough to fall upon a research study. And it was being conducted at UCSF, specifically at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

And they were studying the potential benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction for students at UCSF. And that meant the class was free. So I was part of an eight-week class with students from medicine, pharmacy, nursing, other doctoral programs. We got one-on-one sessions with the teacher, who was also a former UCSF student, Professor of Medicine.

And I'll say, this class changed my life profoundly. My entire experience of myself and my surroundings, my assessment of my own performance, my own quality of experience changed for the better. And it was gradual. But basically what happened is, I became more and more interested in meditation and I started practicing, started going on retreats.

And at this point, I've easily been on 30 residential retreats because it's that valuable to me. Why do pre-med and med students experience such high anxiety? Well, I've linked several articles to this lesson. And the one titled, how to stay focused in med school lays out, I think, over a dozen reasons, including but not limited to the ones I've included here.

Heavy workload of school. Competition to distinguish yourself and be accepted to programs, positions. Lack of control over circumstances. Being at the mercy of others' agendas. Poor sleep, social isolation. And even exposure to illness and infection through working in a clinical setting.

They also point to the anxiety that comes from being around death and dying and sickness and illness and pain. And then there's also being faced with ethical and moral dilemmas about providing care, protecting privacy, setting priorities. Well, although stress factors mean healthcare students have just that much more to benefit through mindfulness.

And here are just a few of the benefits that have been found among research studies on student populations. Lower cortisol, better focus, elevated mood, resilience, creative problem solving, improved memory, more compassion for patients, and more compassion for self. And this is part of a larger movement among physicians and other healthcare practitioners.

And there will be many opportunities in your life to practice, research, maybe teach in the context of your future careers. Let's talk about mindful routines. These are the titles of the remaining lessons in this series, breathing to anchor, body scanning, the wandering mind, mindful conversations. They're taught by a colleague of mine named Chris Vern, who's a medical systems expert and public speaker, and each of these lessons has an experiential component.

You can follow them without even looking at your screen, and they're all pretty short. But before wrapping up this lesson, I want to offer just a few of my own suggestions that are very quick that can be incorporated into your regular daily routines. Mindful hand washing, that can be your practice.

And as you do this, you let your inner dialogue be soft in the background and instead listen to the sound outside of you, like the water. Look at the soap bubbles, feel the slippery textures, pay attention, maybe, to fragrances of soaps, the feel of the faucet as you turn it on and off. The feel of water running down your hand for that second right before you dry your hands.

You could practice being mindful of putting on your seat belt, even quicker. Instead of buckling while you turn on the ignition, just put all of your attention on putting on your seat belt. Notice the interplay of tension and relaxation, pulling the strap, hot and cold in your hands based on the temperatures around you. And the combination of both effort and ease.

Mindful tying of shoes. If you have pairs with laces or buckles. Think about it, when you were four years old, it took all of your attention to put on and potentially tie, or velcro, or whatever shoes you had, just knowing which shoe went on which foot took a little bit of thought. It was a challenge.

Maybe it was a source of entertainment for a period of time. You're probably more focused on your thoughts, where you're coming from or going to, but you can let all of that go for 15 seconds and actually even let yourself get comfortable as you put on your shoes. Or the quickest of all, and this is pulled from one of the articles I linked to this lesson, the door technique.

It's a practice recommended by a physician for other physicians. Rather than rushing from room to room, maybe in a clinic or hospital. Any of us in any setting can use the three seconds it takes to open and walk through a door, to be aware of the sensations in that moment. Maybe a wave of apprehension in your chest because of emotional associations. Maybe the brisk sensation of air conditioning on the other side, or heat.

So if it interests you, I encourage you to choose one of these methods, or think of your own, and just see how it goes. And what's really exciting is that over time, it becomes your natural way. And that's a gift you can take with you wherever you go, whatever stresses you're facing.

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