Maintaining Mindfulness

Describe a nurse’s job anyway you like. Grueling. Thankless. Emotionally draining. Backbreaking.

Yet many are called to the profession for one reason alone – they love caring for people.

The only problem is, all too often, nurses forget to care for themselves, as does the healthcare industry at large.

But there is relief in sight.

All it takes is learning a few skills rooted in the ancient practice of mindfulness, often referred to as awareness of the present moment or coming back to the “here and now,” says California-based Michelle Tamura, LPN, a user and teacher of mindfulness to other nurses.

You can think of mindfulness as a technique used to relax the body and mind. Silent meditation is often incorporated into a mindfulness practice.

Over time people report less stress as it helps them learn how to manage stress more effectively.

Compassion Grid

At work, Tamura says, it can be as simple as assessing your needs and realizing it’s time for a short break, or time to use the restroom. She likes to take a few deep breaths in between visiting each patient. She says it helps her focus better on the task at hand and “potentially” helps minimize mistakes.

Elisha Goldstein, PhD, a psychologist and author of “The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life,” says, “Nursing is the greatest industry of burnout that we know because they are constantly caring for others. And what happens with that type of occupation – where you see so many people in pain – inevitably, you can develop compassion fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue includes feeling overwhelmed from stress while lacking empathy for patients. For some, it leads to depression. While it’s impossible to know exactly how many nurses report depressive symptoms, an estimated 12.4 million women and 6.4 million men in the U.S experience the condition annually. Substance abuse is commonly reported with depression.

If your compassion grid goes dark and you start feeling numb, experts say it’s normal: the body to responds to stress this way, especially when it has nothing left to give.

“Nurses stop seeing their patients as people” who need their care, says Goldstein. “You can’t care about them anymore because it’s so exhausting to do so,” he says, adding that it sometimes leads to episodic “trauma” for nurses themselves.

Practicing Mindfulness

Tamura says it’s critical to “unlearn” the idea that “others come first,” which she says is an occupational hazard for many healthcare workers. But with regular practice, mindfulness and breath work helps reverse that.

Unfortunately, some nurses won’t last as long as they’d like. “A lot of nurses are forced to leave the business because they’ve let themselves get so worn down,” says Tamura. “Their heart loves the work, but physically they’ve allowed themselves to get ground into the ground.”

Try this. Close your eyes for five minutes and begin to breathe deeply. If you suddenly feel bored – just observe the feeling. If you begin to feel discouraged and tempted to stop, again, just remain aware of your thought while remembering awareness is the goal.

While practicing mindfulness, experts suggest gently releasing any uninvited thoughts lodged in your head. Imagine placing each thought on an imaginary bubble – then watch the wind carry it away. Or imagine a string of rowboats floating in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Ocean – placing each thought on a boat that drifts out to sea.

“Notice your experience without being judgmental or criticizing it,” says psychiatrist Lidia Zylowska, MD, co-founder of the UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and Author Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD.

If you “check in” with yourself after a stressful situation, she says often you may notice intense feelings start to fade.

“Mindfulness gives you the ability to pause. You may realize you overreacted to someone or something,” she adds.

Zylowska explains two types of mindfulness: informal, short sessions that take a few moments to check in with yourself several times a day; and the formal practice ranging from five to 45 minutes that includes walking or silent sitting meditations.

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