How do you act when you’re angry? What about when you’re sad, frightened, or disgusted?

Do you yell at whomever is bugging you? Do you just shut down and run away? Or do you break down and cry?

Do you even know when your emotions are getting the best of you?

For those of us in the healthcare industry, we bring our emotions into every interaction with our coworkers, patients, and clients. Our feelings influence our service, for better and for worse. Sometimes it’s hard to look at someone in the eyes and set aside our differences in order to succeed with the task at hand. Animosity or outside stressors pose a problem for professional relationships and for the therapeutic alliance. I don’t think the answer to this problem is stoicism, though, because the attempt to suppress emotions could backfire.

The answer to this problem is mindfulness. We need to be aware of our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Only through awareness of our emotions can we let those fleeting states pass, and only through letting emotions pass can we truly attend to the present.

I’m no paragon of mindfulness. It’s not easy. But since the election on Tuesday, I feel a call to find balance so that I can be a successful student and an empathetic physical therapist. Let’s be honest — regardless of whether we’re ecstatic or outraged with the results of the election, we’re all struggling with balance in our lives right now.

Succeeding at mindfulness is tough, but practicing is easy. I found a simple three-minute breathing space practice that is accessible to anyone with just an extra three minutes. Dr. Zindel Segal writes that the three steps are as follows:

  1. Attend to what is. The first step invites attending broadly to one’s experience, noting it, but without the need to change what is being observed.
  2. Focus on the breath. The second step narrows the field of attention to a single, pointed focus on the breath in the body.
  3. Attend to the body. The third step widens attention again to include the body as a whole and any sensations that are present.

That’s it. You don’t need to be in a fancy pose. You don’t even need to close your eyes. You can do this while you’re walking, standing in line, or taking a shower. Just set an alarm for three minutes and start attending.

I’d like to add a tip for focusing on the breath. For me, I like to count the breaths, starting with 1 on the first inhalation, then 2 on the first exhalation. After 5, I count back down to 1 and repeat back and forth. I find that I get distracted less when counting up and down between 1 and 5, instead of just counting upwards.

I plan to set aside three minutes after parking my car in the morning, right before heading into the clinic. When could you set aside three minutes?