Health & wellness

Handling stress at work

Rebecca Clarke

Dr. Aditi Nerurkar was walking to work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center the other day when she decided to turn her commute into a meditation.

She set a steady pace and rather than listen to music, she tuned in to her movements and listened to the world around her.

“There were birds, there were ducks, there was the wind, the crunching of the snow beneath my feet,” she said.

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She took it all in, rather than worry about what awaited her at work, where she’s assistant medical director of the Cheng-Tsui Integrated Health Center.

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Such meditations don’t have to take long, and they can be more high-tech than new agey.

Research has found that even short interludes of mindfulness meditation can improve focus, promote more rational decision-making, and improve emotional control, among other benefits.

The next time you get stressed at work, just stop for a moment, Saki Santorelli suggested. Santorelli is executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“Momentum is intoxicating,” he said. But stopping on purpose to refocus and to pay attention to bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts can actually improve effectiveness, he said.

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Dr. Ann S. LaCasce said her brief meditations help her do a better job of meeting her patients’ needs. A senior physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, LaCasce said she sometimes gets so caught up in the stress of her “kind of crazy life” that she forgets to be present.

A few months ago, she downloaded a free app called Headspace, with her upgrades funded by Dana-Farber, and now she uses it regularly for 10-minute meditations.

Dana-Farber started the Headspace program in October. In December, 250 of Dana-Farber’s 4,000 employees meditated for a total of 21,000 minutes, according to Deb Hicks, the institute’s chief human resources officer. Hicks, who does a 10-minute meditation exercise many mornings in her parked car after arriving at work, hopes the program will catch on with even more of the staff.

For LaCasce, the Headspace program helped her “realize my mind is going a million miles an hour, whereas before I wouldn’t have noticed it,” she said. “I think I’m a lot happier at work if I feel like I can focus and connect with people — and doing things in a way that I’m not distracted all the time.”

KAREN WEINTRAUB