The Demystifying Physician Mindfulness Series
For many of my readers, the concept of mindfulness seems out of reach. The term evokes imagery of tranquil monks and bucolic hillsides, existing miles away, both literally and metaphorically. I created this series to shorten these distances, and to introduce mindfulness to practicing physicians as an easily accessible tool to combat burnout.
With the goal of demystifying mindfulness, I decided to create this 12 part series. Each post examines the relationship between mindfulness and a specific area of the practicing physician’s day-to-day life. They each include a physician’s story, and how the rigors of their practice currently hamper their ability to fully live that part of their life. After detailing their situation, I provide guidance for how that physician can utilize mindfulness to gain fulfillment in that area.
With each post, I give you an actionable step that will help you integrate that post’s topic into your daily life. I’m also going to give you an exercise that you can practice in your free time that will help strengthen your resilience, calm, and fulfillment. My goal is to transform mindfulness from a daunting, unapproachable ideal into a broad toolkit that you have easy access to. Simply put, I want to help you be a happier, more productive version of yourself, at the workplace and at home.
Without further ado, the next installment of Demystifying Mindfulness.
Today’s topic: Mindful Parenting
Our physician, Dr. P, is a general surgeon from a southern state:
“I adore my kids and they mean the world to me. I put in countless hours at the office, and everything I do as a physician is so I can provide for them. But when I’m with them, I can’t seem to be fully present. I get easily upset with them and have trouble just enjoying little moments with them. We argue more than I’d like, and it seems like as a parent I can’t do anything right. What should I do?”
Dear Dr. P,
You’re writing in with a problem that many of my clients struggle with. You have important goals, to be the best provider and parent that you can possibly be. As physicians, we want to be the “best” at everything we do, and often become highly self-critical at the first sign of imperfection. This tendency carries over to parenting. We can often have trouble remembering the things that we are doing well, in our practice and at home, as parents.
I want to hone in on a small detail you mentioned: “I get easily upset with (my kids.)” The first key step to changing any negative pattern in your thinking or reacting is to become aware of it. This is a huge step that you have already taken. I want you to key into your pattern of irritability. Notice as much about your internal state at the moment your irritability arises. In other words, get to know your early warning signs. Then, when they occur, take a mental pause and take three slow deep breaths. This helps reset both your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems and creates a space between the stimulus—whatever challenges parenting presents– and your response. This space allows you to see that you have a choice in how you respond. You can then respond in a less reactive way, in a way you’ll likely feel better about.
While retraining yourself to be less reactive around your children, it is important that you extend a sense of compassion to yourself. You aren’t going to be perfect as a parent, and you aren’t going to completely tilt this reactive pattern overnight. Giving yourself space to do your best and be imperfect as a parent is crucial. You, just like your children (and your patients) are simply doing your best. And that’s all we can ask for.
In addition to the protocol, I outlined above, give yourself structured time to recognize your strengths as a parent. Once a week, spend 5 minutes writing down all of the successes that you had as a parent that week. You may surprise yourself. Taking pauses, and gradually training yourself to focus on your accomplishments as a parent will help you be more present and less self-critical when spending time with your children, which will ultimately deepen your relationships with them.
Give these mindful strategies a shot, and look forward to being more present and compassionate with yourself and your children.
To your resilience,