If you struggle with the Winter blues, don’t write off the power of having mindfulness meditation practices in your self care toolbox.
As the days get shorter and temperatures get colder, it is not uncommon to feel sluggish, unmotivated, and in a low mood. While these are all common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, the transition from warm and sunny to frigid and glum can put just about anyone into hibernation mode.
The Winter season can affect our moods and productivity levels because our circadian rhythms, also known as our internal clocks, change with the seasons and affect the serotonin levels in our brains. Decreased sunlight from shorter days causes decreases in serotonin levels, one of the main feel-good chemicals in our brains, and may also trigger increased levels of melatonin, the main chemical in our brains that helps us sleep.
Meanwhile, as these chemical changes occur, the average working person is still expected to function during the same hours, which in addition to feelings of lethargy, can also add increased stress to the mix as well. Locums get the benefit of choosing their own schedules, and therefore, generally don’t need to worry too much about their circadian rhythm not matching up with their work hours. However, that doesn’t mean that the work of a locum is completely free of stress.
As medical providers, locums can still experience high stress levels simply due to the nature of working in the healthcare field. For those who experience low mood and motivation in the Winter months, the symptoms can make it difficult to not only travel from assignment to assignment, which can be exhausting in itself, but also to put their best foot forward on the job.
Locums who struggle with Winter blues symptoms may find a solution in mindful practices that they can take on-the-go. The effects of mindfulness practices are proven to aid in the reduction of stress and negative emotions by helping you to pay attention to the present moment. This in turn reduces activity in the amygdala, or the stress response center in your brain.
You may only be familiar with mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) in the form of deep breathing, closing your eyes, body scans, and listening to guided meditations with your arms at your sides. But mindfulness techniques don’t have to disrupt your day-to-day as a locum. In fact, there are many proven practices specifically outlined by Mindfulness Moments for Clinicians (MMFC) that you can use to alleviate low mood and reduce stress, even while you’re on the clock!
To help you beat the blues this cold season, we’ve broken 5 of our favorite techniques from the MMFC framework, telling you all you need to know about when, how, and why they work!
Healthcare is already a trying field of work to be in, and on top of the regular stress you may experience, you may be adding to your negative emotions by being too hard on yourself. Compassionate Words to Self is a practice to utilize when you notice that you’re being overly critical of yourself, and it is aimed at helping you to cultivate a more encouraging, and compassionate voice toward yourself.
Research indicates that people who practice self-compassion are better prepared to cope with obstacles, and they also tend to practice more behaviors and activities that boost both physical and mental health. In addition to enhancing your inner-strength, resilience, and courage in tough situations, self-compassion can also encourage long term benefits for your overall well-being.
To utilize the Compassionate Words to Self technique, imagine in your mind that you are speaking to a dear friend or loved one who is experiencing the same struggles that you are. Speak to them kindly, and empathetically about their struggles. If your mind wanders, gently return to the conversation. Bring your attention to the words you said to your loved one, and then repeat them to yourself instead. Alternatively, you can also instead think up an imaginary friend, who, in your mind, is loving and unconditionally wise, and speak to yourself about your struggles in their voice.
On those days when it feels impossible to put on a happy face, Gratitude may be the remedy for squeezing out negative emotions, and reminding yourself of everything there is to be happy about. While Gratitude is another practice that benefits you more the more you use it, it can be particularly useful when you feel disconnected, insecure, depressed, or any other emotion that may be causing a low mood.
Gratitude works to discourage negative feelings and invite in positive ones because it activates the reward system in your brain, giving you a rush of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. The more you practice Gratitude, the easier it becomes, and the more you experience its benefits including increased feelings of happiness, connection, and closeness.
To start out with your Gratitude practice, simply list off three things that you are grateful for in your life. If you have trouble bringing things you are grateful for to mind, don’t worry; they can be as small or large as you want, from being grateful for the hat on your head, or for the next locum assignment you have scheduled.
If you’re feeling empathetic distress for a patient, or are having an unusually frantic day, this grounding technique can help you come back to the present moment. Grounding yourself through the soles of the feet is a good exercise to utilize when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed or even just overstimulated.
Grounding techniques work to take you out of your anxiety by focusing on your present surroundings. By switching your focus back into reality, you are able to get yourself out of your automatic fight, flight, or freeze response because you realize that you are safe in your surroundings.
To ground yourself with this technique, simply stand up and feel the physical sensation of the soles of your feet where they connect to the floor.Begin to gently rock forward and back, and side to side, feeling the rising and falling of your breath and the changes in sensation on your feet. When you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your focus back to the soles of your feet.
You can stop here and repeat the practice every time you feel overly stressed. But if you so wish, you can continue on by beginning to walk slowly, again, focusing on the soles of your feet and noticing the changes in sensation. Acknowledge how hard your feet work to keep your body upright with gratitude if you so wish, and when you feel ready, return to standing to close out the exercise.
Getting through the cold months as a medical provider isn’t always easy, especially when you’re a locum. Do yourself a favor this Winter and practice some mindfulness to take care of yourself when you need it the most.