For healthcare workers, Shapiro says each meditation has two goals: prepare first-responders to be in difficult situations, and remind them to maintain an attitude of kindness and compassion—not just towards their patients, but themselves. “They’re in incredibly difficult situations, and to even pause for a moment to allow themselves to say, ‘This is hard, and scary, and I’m afraid,’ is important,” says Shapiro.
Practicing kindness and compassion bathes us in oxytocin, often called the “feel-good” hormone, and dopamine, which activates our brain’s motivation center, and “nourishes us and also prepares us for the difficult task at hand.”
That dilemma speaks directly to what she is teaching her graduate students in SCU’s Marriage and Family Therapy class about how to learn to take care of yourself while taking care of others.
Keeping Burnout at Bay
“When we are completely consumed by stress, it limits our capacity to see and respond,” says Shapiro. “This is why learning to ‘pendulate’ from the negative to the positive is essential.”
Shapiro has spent more than two decades studying the clinical applications of mindfulness meditation in psychotherapy and healthcare. Her research involving physicians and nurses shows mindfulness training can prevent burnout, depression, and anxiety. Dozens of medical schools now have incorporated such training into their curriculum.
In addition to writing more than 150 papers, she has published are three books, including The Art and Science of Mindfulness: Integrating Mindfulness into Psychology and the Helping Professions, which describes neuroscience research about mindfulness and how it inspires greater well-being in clinicians and their patients.
If there is one thing Shapiro believes we can all learn from the pandemic, it is that “we are remembering what is truly important now.” She quotes former Disney executive turned life coach Dave Hollis who recently advised: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”
The virus, Shapiro says, has forced us to think about what matters most, from families and loved ones to slowing down, taking time to listen deeply. And then asking ourselves: “How do we want to live our best lives going forward?”