Tokyo (SCCIJ) – At the June Luncheon, psychiatrist and clinical psychologist Dr. Daisuke Fujisawa, Associate Professor at Keio University, shared useful advice to increase and maintain mental wellness with 40 members and guests of the SCCIJ. His hands-on lecture featured some mental exercises that can be integrated into a daily routine.
Dr. Fujisawa recently developed a training program to cultivate mindfulness and compassion of health professionals called MaHALO. The acronym stands for “Mindfulness for health professionals building resilience and compassion”. The two-day program focuses on exercises for mindfulness and compassion and encourages participants to continue the exercises in daily life and clinical settings.
The MaHALO advice consists of simple ideas as the speaker revealed: Attention – pay attention to your thoughts and feelings before talking to someone you care about. Acceptance – accept both success and failure as part of your life. Being – take a breath, be with your present sensations. Cognition – what you think is just an image made up by your brain. Compassion – direct compassion to yourself before directing to others. A clinical trial with 70 health professionals in cancer and palliative care confirmed that this program reduces stress and raises resilience.
“There is widespread burnout among health professionals,” said the luncheon speaker. The figures are astonishing: Between 12% and 39% of doctors and nurses suffer from emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased personal accomplishment. The syndrome lowers job satisfaction and productivity, heightens absenteeism and staff turnover, and decreases the quality of patient care. The MaHALO reacts to this challenge with four components – mindfulness, compassion, mindful communication, and recalling intentions.
“Mindfulness reduces stress, relieves physical symptoms, and increases concentration and productivity,” the speaker explained. “It means paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmentally”. For better comprehension, Professor Fujisawa pointed to two modes of information processing – the logical, problem-focused “doing mode” and the paying attention to the present “being mode”, modes often associated with one side of the brain. “Focusing on the present moment is helping against depression and anxiety which both lead away from the presence.”
The speaker gave some tips on how to pay attention to the present moment through the five senses. “While eating, notice the color, shape, fragrance, warmth, taste, and scent of the food,” he said. When moving, observe nature and people and feel gratitude. “Remind yourself of the sources of happiness that you already have (but you are usually not aware of) – health, safety, job, friends, sunshine, or even in routine moments like your cup of coffee in the morning,” he continued. “As a procedure to become attentive, observe how your breath comes and goes, since your breath reflects your emotions”.
“Maintain your vigor”
Overall, the speaker recommended one should focus on things that can be controlled by oneself. “For example, concerning Covid-19, you can control how to respond to others, whether to take protective measures to prevent infection and what information one gives to others,” he said. Outside of one’s control are bigger issues like how the economy develops, who is infected, and how the government acts. “Hence, you can maintain your vigor by adjusting your behavior,” the speaker argued.
When feeling down, one often lowers activities and gets more depressed. “But you can activate a positive spiral of pleasure and contentment, thus maintaining vigor.” “Even if you feel depressed, push yourself and make small steps, then you may find a little pleasure and from there, generate energy from other activities like interacting with others,” he said.
Even deliberately expressing joy and laughter through your face can change your emotions positively, he surprised his audience. “Altogether, you have strong power to alter your emotions.” He finished his talk with a famous quote “Stop trying to calm the storm – calm yourself, the storm will pass” and received a thunderous applause.
Biography of the speaker
Dr. Daisuke Fujisawa is a psychiatrist / clinical psychologist who specializes in mental health care of people with physical conditions. Recently he developed the MaHALO program to cultivate mindfulness and compassion in health professionals. The SCCIJ donated JPY 500,000 in June to Dr. Fujisawa’s labo to finance an online version of the program to extend it to medical workers nationwide.
Text and photos: Martin Fritz for SCCIJ