Mindfulness for General Practitioners
Date of publishing: 18th Jun 2018
Mindfulness unpacked: A GP’s guide
Source: Pfizer Ireland
The practice of mindfulness - a form of personal reflection and self-meditation – has spread across the globe in recent years, as people from all walks of life look for new ways to combat the stresses and strains of busy working lives.
A recent survey found almost 10 per cent of all Irish GPs are using mindfulness to help battle burnout1, with the short, simple and self-directed steps cited as a key part of their relaxation toolkit.
GPs are acutely aware of the need to de-stress, with 92 per cent feeling it is it important to practice personal strategies to maintain mental health2. Exercise is the most popular way for the nation’s doctors to unwind, but passive relaxation and mindfulness are also used by up to a quarter of GPs to de-stress.
Mindfulness is a personal nudge to take pleasure in the everyday, and a growing body of evidence shows that it can have positive benefits.
Research by the University of Oxford found that, after a month, 58 per cent of people who had taken a mindfulness course felt anxiety levels had been reduced3, 57 per cent reported lower levels of depression and 40 per cent a reduction in stress.
The ICGP is firmly behind the mindfulness movement, creating an eight-week ‘Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Training Course’ for GPs.
However if you don’t have that time to spare, here are four simple ways to introduce mindfulness into your working life:
An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience,’4 Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre claims on the NHS Choices website.
The idea is that by focusing on certain parts of your body, you become more connected with physical sensations, exploring how your body feels at that moment of time.
The process is simple: find a relaxing space and time where you won’t be disturbed by patients or partners. Close your eyes and focus on any part of your body. Notice how it feels, pressures, stresses, strains or freedoms. Learn to focus on your body and try to exclude outside thoughts.
You can choose to focus on parts at random, or conduct what mindfulness experts call body-scanning, where you meditate on the whole body. There are recordings available that lead you through this process.
If time is tight, then Dublin GP Dr Paula Martin recommends that GPs focus on just one thing: ‘If you would like to experience a moment of mindfulness during a busy day, then concentrate on your breathing.’5
When we are stressed our breathing can quicken, chest tighten and that clenched up feeling can take over – all without us ever noticing. A short spell of mindful breathing can help us to recognise and restore calm, deep breathing. It can be done anytime, anywhere - even between patients.
Stop what you are doing, relax and focus solely on your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths, counting them in and out. Reflect on how the breathing makes you feel.
“Observe first your inhalation and then your exhalation – without trying to change it in any way,” Dr. Martin adds5.
Active, open listening
As all GPs know, the responsibility to actively listen to a patient without judgement is a core part of the role, but like all skills it can be refreshed and improved.
Last winter, London-wide LMCs in the UK held a ‘mindful listening’6 event where they explored the fundamentals of active listening. Mindful listening involves taking the time to listen and understand every word that is spoken, ignoring any distractions and ensuring you are totally present in the conversation.
By practising this technique, the idea is that GPs will make better diagnoses, fewer errors, and be more aware of the practice world around them.
To put it into action, take the time to actively listen to those people you come into contact with, whoever they are and however trivial or pedestrian their issues may initially seem. Extend the same approach to colleagues and other staff to truly appreciate the benefits.
Losing an appreciation for the everyday is a common experience, with stress affecting our ability to enjoy things in our lives.
One simple mindfulness technique is to record five things you've seen that make you happy that day. This could be a funny cat video on utube, a kid playing with toys in the surgery, or the clock ticking over to mark the end of the day. Keep a notepad next to your desk and jot down what makes you happy.
The practice isn’t about the reasons why you’re happy (although they are important); it’s about considering the wonder in the seemingly insignificant parts of our every day.
The impact has been clinically recorded in a study, that concludes everyday appreciation can improve self-perception7 and interpersonal relationships.
Mindfulness as a philosophy comes from a core belief that spending some time with yourself every day can have positive benefits. It’s about understanding that, as a busy GP, self-care isn’t selfish – it’s common sense.
 O’Gorman, L. Bradley, C. Mindfulness and the GP: Attitudes of GPs towards the scope for Mindfulness practice as one of a range of strategies used by GPs to maintain their own mental health. 2013 (cited 10.07.17). Available at:
https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEw jB86apq_7UAhWlJsAKHc05D5cQFggqMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.icgp.ie%2Fspeck%2Fproperties%2Fasset%2Fasset.cfm%3Ftype%3DLibraryAsset%26id%3D7A010479%252D9685%252DF744%252DE67DB2683865729F%26property%3Dasset%26revision%3Dtip%26disposition%3Dattachment%26app%3Dicgp%26filename%3DLiz%255FO%255FGorman%252E%255FMindfulness%255Fand%255Fthe%255FGP%252E%255FAttitudes%255Fof%255FGPs%255Ftowards%255Fmaintaining%255Ftheir%255Fown%255Fment al%255Fhealth%252E%252Epdf&usg=AFQjCNEgCGLim96kUBBPaN4lgsQoWpEWgA
 O’Gorman, L. Bradley, C. Mindfulness and the GP: Attitudes of GPs towards the scope for Mindfulness practice as one of a range of strategies used by GPs to maintain their own mental health. 2013 [cited 10.07.17]. [See link above]
 Krusche, A. Cyhlarova, E. Williams, M.G. Mindfulness online: an evaluation of the feasibility of a web-based mindfulness course for stress, anxiety and depression. BMJ Open. [cited 10.07.17] Available from: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/11/e003498
 Williams, M. NHS Choices. Mindfulness. 2017 [cited 10.07.17] Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety- depression/pages/mindfulness.aspx?tabname=common%20problems
 Martin, P. A mindful approach to coping with illness. Forum September 2011
 Londonwide LMCs. From mindfulness to Reflection. 2016 [cited 10.07.17] Available from: https://www.lmc.org.uk/article.php?group_id=15439
 Emmons, R.A. McCullough, M.E. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003 [cited: 10.07.17]. Available from: http://www.stybelpeabody.com/newsite/pdf/gratitude.pdf
Date of Preparation: May 2018