Mindfulness to avoid stress and empathize with patients

Mindfulness is a  term that are becoming habitual in the field of psychology in recent years. The first formulations of mindfulness were made in the United States in the late 1970s, and since then this method has become an effective tool to assist the practitioner. In addition, it has been shown to have important clinical applications for, for example, helping to avoid stress and increasing empathy, a circumstance that greatly benefits practitioners. In fact, there are also more frequent training itineraries for workers in the socio-health field

Mindfulness can be defined as the method that enables us to pay particular attention to each moment, “consciously and without judgment. It is to be present with the heart in what happens from moment to moment. Without being in another thing, without autopilot, suspending the trials and without reacting to what they like or dislike impulsively. This is what the doctor in psychology and founder of the Esmindfulness Institute, Andrés Martín, explains that mindfulness is “basically living life as it is, noting that miracle, but still acting effectively, meaningfully.”

The clinical psychologist and president of the Spanish Association of Mindfulness and Compassion (AEMind), Marta Alonso, qualifies that more than a method is a different state of consciousness “which consists in being aware of the mind’s movement from moment to moment,  while maintaining the attention primarily in the present, here and now. It is a naked, open, kind, affectionate, compassionate attention to all that goes on inside and outside. “ According to the expert we speak of a basic and universal human capacity, which recognize all the traditions of the world, of any kind and what we could call “pure consciousness.”

Definición de Mindfulness por Marta Alonso

Being a universal and human capacity, to practice it you just have to want to do it, you just have to decide to incorporate it into the day to day and commit to that decision. Each person will perform this process in a different way, although it is recommended, as Alonso explains, to perform a standard eight-week standardized protocol “such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction-MBSR, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy-MBCT or Mindful Self-Compassion Program-MSC in a group and with an accredited instructor “. Then it should be practiced weekly or fortnightly and consolidated with guided tasks to be done at home. Creating the habit is easier with the support of the group and the instructor. The president of AEMind says that learning is easy and that it can even be fast, but “keeping it permanently is quite more complicated. We have seen in our formations and groups that it takes an average of two years to consolidate the practice of mindfulness in a stable and continuous way. “

It is practiced with techniques of contemplation and meditation, adds Martin, who distinguishes two types: formal and informal techniques. Sitting or lying meditation is one of the first that can count on the necessary professional guidance. And, on the other hand, the informal ones are those that are applied in daily activities, as, for example, “to wake up until you get out of bed, when showering, cleaning, shaving, make-up or going to the bathroom, waiting in a Traffic light, bus or meeting, or when you finish a task and you have not started the next one yet. “ In all cases the important thing is to keep the mind on the task and avoid putting “the autopilot. It’s like a game of attention “, he explains.

Meditación y Mindfulness

Clinical Applications

Mindfulness has many and varied clinical applications, interventions perhaps the most proven and known being MBSR (stress reduction based on mindfulness). “There are others to prevent relapses in depression or eating disorders, treating addictions or coexisting with chronic pain, although almost all have MBSR as a basis and adapt to a specific audience,” explains the founder of the Esmindfulness Institute.

With the practice of this technique we work to optimize the functioning of the brain in its executive functions, so that, according to Marta Alonso, the effect that is produced is positive and global throughout the system. In fact, thanks to new techniques of resonance and neuroimaging, it has been proven that the practice of mindfulness in a continuous way “produces a thickening and establishment of many new neural connections in the region called medial prefrontal cortex. Region that is the anatomical substrate of the main integrating functions of the human brain “. The sociosanitary professional will find in his practice your welfare and health, “freeing him from the prison of his afflictive thoughts and emotions, through a new way of relating to them, which has to do more with acceptance to change, than with Avoidance. It is about enhancing all the possibilities of human consciousness and of making positive affectivity and creativity flourish, “he added.

Benefits contrasted, for example, through research carried out by the Institute Esmindfulness with health professionals, which has proven that after a program of only eight weeks “reduces burnout and emotional disturbance, and increases the empathy”. In addition, as Andrés Martín comments, the professionals who carried out these programs recognized that there were changes in their personal attitudes aimed at taking better care of themselves.

One of the many advantages that health professionals will find in practicing mindfulness is that it will help them deal with work stress. As Martin explains, stress is produced by attrition, by the repeated use of the “emergency mechanism, mediated by emotions to fight or flee from various situations. Mindfulness helps on several levels. First not to judge so much, second to regulate the emotions and third to take better care. In addition, it makes us happier, which reduces mental stress “.

This technique was initially designed precisely to reduce stress in cancer patients and bring them higher quality of life. Marta Alonso certifies that it is verified that constant practice produces a state of serenity, dedramatization and concentration. As one of the fundamental components of mindfulness is trust understood as acceptance of uncertainty, “the practice produces a state of deep calm, eliminating negative stress or distress progressively” as the exercises are being consolidated.

Las diferentes aplicaciones de Mindfulness en la vida diaria

Mindfulness can also contribute to facilitating professional decision-making, as it produces a state of “increased” clarity and helps to cultivate a “more stable and less reactive” emotional state, as Alonso points out. Its practice, he says, works because it helps to be aware of thoughts and emotions to decide whether to act or not. That is, “one is given the internal space enough to ask: I am interested in acting from this emotional state? Is it helpful to pay attention to this thought? “

In addition, his practice reduces “cognitive biases (the tendency to self-deception) and improves intuition,” as Martin points out, adding that in this sense they are carrying out an investigation, together with the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona to study how it influences When making clinical decisions.

More benefits: mindfulness will help the professional to empathize more with patients. In the study conducted by the Institute esMindfulness with Primary Care professionals, empathy was related to a lower aggressiveness and greater emotional regulation. “When a professional has a balanced mind, empathy for people who suffer is natural. But when it is – On a physical level: it boosts the immune system and the production of antibodies (attenuates the secretion of cortisol in response to stress), among other effects. And it produces vitality as well as a relaxed state.

At the mental level: it allows us to grasp reality on the one hand, and the way our mind deforms it on the other. It brings concentration, calm, serenity and peace.

At the emotional level: empathy and restoration of emotional balance. It favors positive moods. Generates good ability to deal with negative emotions and situations.

At the relational level: it facilitates the knowledge of oneself through the understanding of one’s own experience. Encourages a basic attitude of respect and love for himself and for all.

This discipline can contribute to strengthen the empathy between patients and professionals. According to him, in an attitude of “mindfull presence the professional can be left to impact, without pre-conceived ideas, by the emergent experience of the patient”. It can, in short, facilitate an experience of continuous interpersonal contact “which in turn facilitates the internal contact. Today, it is known that with these techniques, relationships with others also improve, perhaps because it increases the ability to perceive the nonverbal emotional signals of others, as well as to feel their inner worlds.

To all this, it should be added that, in addition, mindfulness helps professionals to improve communication with patients and “to recover the illusion of the career, putting in value the importance of caring for and healing others who suffer. I am sorry to see the high degree of burnout in the profession and the cost it has for those who suffer it and for the Health System, “says Martin. All these benefits that the professional receives undoubtedly result in better patient care. Because “it is demonstrated that the quality of the therapeutic intervention depends to a great extent on the internal state of the professional. If a toilet is balanced, attentive, compassionate and awake, then the conditions are the best to deal with a patient, “says the founder of esMindfulness.

Marta Alonso corroborates this, emphasizing that having direct experience of mindfulness on the part of the therapist, is convenient to respond to the patient’s difficulties. “Compassion towards the patient and towards all his experiences and actions is a fundamental pillar of the therapeutic relationship. In an effort to increase patient compassion for their inner experiences, the therapist models genuine compassion through the therapeutic relationship, responding consistently to emotional distress, extreme thoughts or bodily sensations, and returning them to the patient as universal human events, “he adds. .

Become a Mindfulness

Workers in the socio-health sector (auxiliaries, therapists, social workers, doctors, etc.) receive training in mindfulness more and more frequently. Martín corroborates that from the esMindfulness Institute in Barcelona, more than 1,500 people are trained each year, many of whom are health professionals. In addition “one third of our programs are institutional in health centers”. Currently, the Institute combines online and classroom training to facilitate access to stakeholders and to be more competitive in costs.

For its part, the Spanish Association of Mindfulness and Compassion has specialized training for health professionals since 2009. Alonso recognizes that the practice is potentiated in a group, but it is also essential “to do it individually wherever and continuously. This is the way that the positive effects are installed in our neural pathways. On a repeat basis, the brain learns. “ In addition, he recommends that the practitioner make intensive practice retreats “to savor the deeper level of transformation.”

Actividades formativas en Mindfulness

The first step to give by the professional is to become familiar with mindfulness and that, according to Andrés Martin, takes time. “Then you have to explore perceptions and emotions as part of everyday experience and then learn what the applications are to reduce stress, improve communication, take care of yourself and manage time. In more advanced programs we treat compassion and ethics, “he explains, while recommending the reading of his latest book: Full Mind, Mindfulness or the Art of Being Present (Planet 2015).

The most appropriate training, for Alonso, passes through the protocol of eight weeks standardized plus a specialization in mindfulness (of a year approx.) Applied to the concrete collective in which they work. “We advise it to be more applied than academic training, since to acquire mastery of clinical applications means experiencing them in an experiential way. And, at the same time, it is desirable that the professional be kept in a continuous practice group to consolidate it. “ For the president of AEMind it is also important that in this first stage, which would last not less than two years, intensive practice retreats. Already in a second phase “the professional can consider becoming a specialized instructor of a validated and standardized protocol”, following a training and evaluation itinerary from one year and a half to two years.

Marta Alonso recalls that AEMind works with groups of continuous practice of mindfulness in 16 Spanish provinces “with 100% clinical presentations only for mental health professionals in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. We instructed the instructor itinerary in the Mindful Self Compassion Program (MSC). “

Interview with Marta Alonso and Andrés Martín and published in the magazine Sociosanitary balance in its edition of March. Article created by Juani Loro.