Small moments can make a big difference

April 7, 2020

Physicians can use “micropractices” during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond to increase calm and elevate emotional wellness, Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) faculty associate David P. Fessell writes in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Self-care micropractices only take a moment, can be done virtually anywhere and can be triggered by any recurring event. For example, a doctor can use the time it takes to apply hand sanitizer to connect with his or her emotions and physical well-being between patients.

“Over time, such built-in wellness moments have the potential to shift one’s energy level and the tone of one’s day,” Fessell and co-author Cary Cherniss write. “These practices are intended for strengthening burnout prevention and for adding a bit more wellness.”

The paper recommends several micropractices:

  • Be mindful: Use routine activities, such as logging in to electronic health records, as an opportunity to ask yourself if you’re hungry, thirsty or emotionally overwhelmed.
  • Name emotions: Take a moment to ask yourself how you’re feeling. This “name it to tame it” practice shifts activity from the emotional center of the brain to the higher-order thinking area, increasing calmness.
  • Practice gratitude: Write down three things you’re grateful for several times a week. In a group setting, begin meetings by giving out kudos. Noticing the good things that are happening amidst the swirl encourages positive emotions and relationships.
  • Share best practices: Discuss burnout prevention and wellness strategies with your peers to build connection and learn practical tips for coping with stresses.
  • Breathe deeply: A technique known as diaphragmatic breathing has shown promise as a tool to reduce stress. It can be done in 30-60 second periods during bathroom breaks or even with a few deep breaths between cases.

“Such small changes may seem inconsequential and futile in the face of immense pressures,” the paper says. “Small changes, however, have the advantage of being doable and sustainable. Over time, anchoring deep breathing and other micropractices into our existing habits can help build more wellness into our lives.”

Fessell is a clinical professor of radiology at the University of Michigan. He integrates principles of Positive Organizational Scholarship with creativity studies and executive coaching to help individuals thrive and flourish.