Use Mindfulness to Prevent Burnout

Mindfulness and Meditation

Based on Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is the practice of intentionally being in the here and now.

Working with people as they experience traumatic medical, emotional, financial, and mental health conditions takes a toll on helping professionals. They are at high risk of chronic stress, burnout, depression and compassion fatigue. While organizational practices greatly influence provider well-being, self-care is an essential part of preventing symptoms on an individual level.

One technique that has long been known to be effective and that is now bolstered by research, is mindfulness.

Since the late 1970s, scholars and medical professionals from the East and West have studied how the practice can help those living with chronic pain, illness and mental health issues. More recently, however, the impact of mindfulness on the medical professionals themselves has been a focus.

And, the results have been impressive. Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression in nurses, therapists, paramedics, and family caregivers, among others. Courses and trainings are cost-effective and often have less of a stigma for medical providers compared with seeking formal mental health treatment--while providing some of the same benefits.

Practitioners of mindfulness and meditation techniques are more emotionally resilient. They are able to handle the pressures and emotional ups and downs that come with their work. They are more attentive. And, they are at less of a risk of potentially career-ending conditions like burnout .

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhism, though it is practiced in different forms by many world religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. It is often confused with meditation. While the two are related (meditation is a technique you can use to cultivate mindfulness), mindfulness is actually a state of being.

It is an intentional awareness of the here and now. Or, as Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it, “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.

Being present might seem simple, but it can actually be quite difficult. Our minds are most often caught up in the past or the future. How often have you been talking to someone when your mind wandered to “what am I going to eat for lunch?” or “How am I ever going to get all my work done today?”? Being mindful means actively staying in the moment. It also means noticing automatic thoughts and feelings and accepting them as they come without being judgmental.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is where the Eastern Philosophy meets Western medical practice. Originally developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-ZInn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction Clinic, MBSR is a secularized version of age-old practices.

The method combines tenants of mindfulness, meditation, and hatha yoga. It also incorporates some Western psychology--such as cognitive therapy--helping patients understand the connections between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Kabat-Zinn and colleagues taught these techniques to patients who were experiencing chronic pain and stressful medical conditions. They found that the techniques actually had a physiological impact on patients, including the induction of a relaxation response and ending the cycle of stress. The results were so successful that the program is now replicated in more that 200 medical clinics nationwide.

Where to Start

Starting your own mindfulness practice is simple. Here are some easy exercises:

Body Scan Meditation

Mindful Breathing Exercise

16 Simple Mindfulness Exercises

How has practicing mindfulness helped you in your personal and professional lives?

About Jessica

Jessica Jacobs is a Licensed Social Worker based in Indianapolis, IN. She is passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of those in the helping professions through better self-care and more sustainable and supportive organizational environments. Jessica has worked in international and domestic disaster response, community mental health, nonprofit management and political advocacy. She can be reached at

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