In this new blog series, our lovely Nikki is taking over to tell us about her experience as a newly qualified physio and to describe the joys, fears and challenges she meets along the way. She'll also share her tips which might be useful to some of you too!
T he past couple of weeks have been particularly busy. Due to staff changes, I have moved to a different ward where I have been working with a fellow band 5 without the direct comfort of a senior physiotherapist. Whilst this has been challenging, it has also been particularly stressful.
I have always found that a small amount of stress can work to my advantage - helping me focus and improving my performance. However, I have been known to let it get beyond that and, although I try not to take my work home with me, it can affect my sleep. Recently, when I wake up in the mornings, I have not felt rested in the slightest.
To tell you the truth I have never really known how to manage my own stress well, I have just sort of dealt with it. Of course, there has always been sport – I played netball three times a week at university, so perhaps that was my relief. This time I was keen to explore other avenues of stress management, in particular, one term that has been bandied around amongst friends and colleagues, mindfulness.
Mindfulness has been defined as an "integrative, mind body based approach that helps people manage their thoughts and feelings" (1). NICE recognize it as a preventative practice for people experiencing mental-ill health (1) and in particular, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This well-evidenced branch of mindfulness has been found to significantly reduce stress after a period of practicing (2, 3). Through using different techniques such as meditation, breathing and yoga, mindfulness allows you to become aware of your thoughts and feelings instead of being overwhelmed by them.
My initial experience with mindfulness was at university when our tutor introduced the topic at the beginning of a seminar. For the next 20 minutes, we ‘practiced’ in silence, as he talked us through the art. I remember sitting there with my eyes closed, feeling slightly self-conscious and wondering if I was doing it ‘right’. At the time, the exercise seemed ridiculous to me and I had to try and suppress my inappropriate laughter as I could hear my classmate also snorting.
"Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been found to significantly reduce stress"
Since my first, unsuccessful experience, I have come to realize that more people than I expected benefit from mindfulness techniques. It transpires that at least a handful of my close friends meditate as well as celebrities including Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow, all of which rave about an app called Headspace. With work being particularly stressful and my quality of sleep not great, I figured it was time to give it another shot – how hard can it be?
I took the first step and downloaded the app Headspace. I was immediately drawn to the user-friendly lay out and fun graphics. Founded by Andy, a former Buddhist monk, Headspace is a digital mental health platform, which provides guided meditation and mindfulness sessions. It offers a free 10 day trial which can be accessed online or via the app. The website claims that neuroscientists have found that your brain reshapes itself through meditation, and mindfulness can activate the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system, helping to reduce levels of stress.
Over the past 6 days I have set aside 10 minutes in the morning to meditate. Andy guides you through your breathing, being aware of the different sensations in the body, any areas of discomfort and the surrounding background noises. I was surprised at how quickly I felt my shoulders drop and I relaxed.
There are a couple of animations that accompany the voice clips. One, which has stuck in my mind, is an animation of moving cars, which represent thoughts. Andy asks you to imagine yourself sat at the side of a busy road and watch the cars going past in different directions. He asks you to just sit there and not to stop or chase the cars but to simply let them pass by.
When I feel as though my mind is saturated with stressful thoughts I try to imagine myself at the side of the road. I can say that I have felt an increased sense of control, as if I can manage my thoughts better.
So, how has Headspace benefitted my week? When I walked onto the ward on Thursday morning, one of my colleagues actually said to me “wow, you look relaxed”. I hadn’t taken into account that Headspace may also have an effect on me physically as well as mentally. The niggling pain I get in my right shoulder when I sit down at a computer has dissipated – maybe a coincidence or perhaps my muscles are just not as tense. I feel as though my thoughts have been more organized and my memory slightly improved. Most importantly though, I have felt better rested after a nights sleep.
I confess that meditation has not always had the same consistent effects. On day 5 I struggled to keep my mind from wondering. Headspace advises you not to judge: never tell yourself that you’re good or bad at meditating otherwise you will lose motivation. If I have a “bad” session, I remind myself of this advice and carry on.
"My next step is to think about how mindfulness could benefit my patients."
I have been converted; I am going to make an effort to incorporate meditation into my daily routine. On reflection, it is extremely rare that I ever switch off and fully relax, even in the evening if I sit down to watch television, my mind is still working, concentrating on the TV show.
My next step is to think about how mindfulness could benefit my patients. I plan to look into the evidence further and explore ways in which I can possibly incorporate it into treatment sessions.
I would certainly recommend this user-friendly app to anyone needing a little bit of headspace.
- Mindfulness [Internet]. Mentalhealth.org.uk. 2015 [cited 5 October 2016]. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/mindfulness
- Krusche A, Cyhlarova E, Williams J. Mindfulness online: an evaluation of the feasibility of a web-based mindfulness course for stress, anxiety and depression. BMJ Open. 2013;3(11):e003498.
- Baer R, Carmody J, Hunsinger M. Weekly Change in Mindfulness and Perceived Stress in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2012;68(7):755-765.
About the author
Nikki is a newly-qualified physiotherapist with a previous degree in Human Communication Sciences, currently working in a busy university hospital in East London. She was the first ever to sign up to one of our seminars when we started back in 2015; now a year down the line, she's our first ever resident blogger! Expect to see (and read) more of her very soon!