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As doctors, the one thing we all feel deeply is the need to help patients, delivering the best service possible, and from our hearts. At work, there are many different personalities we come across and we all have to work as a team. The main factor is understanding each other, respecting and appreciating the contributions of others, whilst working together like nuts and bolts in the machinery of the NHS. This isn’t something that happens naturally, so we have to contribute an enormous amount of energy to achieve it. These efforts can make us feel stressed, tired and even helpless, and can bring about other factors such as bullying and harassment at work.
I’ve thought a lot about this recently and attended a course aimed at managing stress. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the method they explained was the same method that I have been following for the past 35 years. Meditation. For years, we didn’t have any evidence of meditation reducing stress. A study was undertaken in the late 90s, supporting it as a process for reducing stress and now NICE recommends meditation as a stress reliever.
We all have a common medical knowledge and an understanding of stress, due to our role as doctors, irrespective of the speciality we work in. Mankind has been living for six million years, but we have only seen civilised life for roughly the past 6,000 years. Because of civilisation, we developed more well-evolved frontal lobes in our brains and most of the time, we make our decisions by consulting this part of our brain. This enables us to make rational judgements, through rational thinking.
In case of emergencies, we tend to bypass the frontal lobe and act through the amygdala in the temporal lobe, due to lack of time to respond, which is a nature’s survival mechanism. Amygdala is an almond shaped mass of nuclei (mass of cells) located deep within the temporal part of the brain. There are two amygdalae, one situated in each brain hemisphere and they are involved in autonomic responses associated with fear and hormonal secretions. This will increase our sympathetic secretions, to tackle the emergency with our fight, flight or stunned response.
So, our brain perceives and processes the situation as a danger unnecessarily and releases increased sympathetic secretions whenever we come across so called ‘danger’. It’s called FEAR. False Evidence Appear Real. This makes our heart rate to go up, increasing blood pressure and blood sugar, which brings on a whole host of symptoms, which I needn’t explain. We become stressed.
Studies have proven that the rhythmic smooth practice of breathing stimulates the parasympathetic system and counteracts all the sympathetic activities. This activity makes the individual feel calm and focused. So, if you’re looking for a way to relieve stress, taking up meditation can help. I can testify to this.
We don’t have control of changing the environment at work, the people around us, or at home, but one thing we can certainly change is ourselves. Meditation has helped me relieve stress, please comment below and share what has worked for you.
Dr Ram Kumar is an Associate Specialist in Emergency Medicine at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil.
Good to read of a doctor recommending something other than medicine ... this is a closely related article
Great advice. I also do regular meditation. Important for us all to look after our mental health and meditation/mindfulness is a good way of doing this.
Good advice backed by Nice guidance .Simple clear explanation of processing in Brain in Stress
Very well written, Ram, with interesting scientific explanation some of which was completely new to me. Until six months ago, I was neutral about meditation - not entirely dismissive, because my father has done it without fail for fifty years and, at the ripe age of 88, seems better for it. Now, I am a total convert because of an eight week Mindfulness course that my Trust paid for which ten of us (doctors) attended. In fact, I only managed to attend five sessions but the meditations have helped me immeasurably. Thanks again for publicising this simple technique which has saved me from a lifetime of antidepressants. Rajiv
That was me - Rajiv Kumar from Swindon, your colleague on SASC UK.
Doctors are in need of meditation with so much harassment and bullying in the workplace
Thanks for sharing this interesting article! I am passionate about holistic well being. I have practising Breathing techniques and effortless meditation of Art Of Living for about 7 years ( www.artofliving.org/uk=en/ happiness -program ) to energise, detox and make progress with my role as a SAS doctor. Also 2 years ago I had a blip with my own health and my GP declared that it was because of my daily practice of meditation and yoga that I rallied around quickly!
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