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Peace of mind for nurses

Shutterstock | hxdbzxy
Shutterstock | hxdbzxy

There’s no question that a nurse’s day-to-day routine translates into a level of stress that, over a very short amount of time, threatens to take a serious toll on one’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. To combat an epidemic of nurse burnout, a widespread effort to improve conditions and provide relief is underway. And not surprisingly, the approach is multifaceted.

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives us a glimpse into a practice that aims to help reduce stress, improve cognitive function and offer a higher quality of life: mindfulness.

Caring for patients can be “organized chaos,” nurses say. As the foot soldiers of health care, they function at the pressure point, the front lines of the war zone, where “you have to be flawless.”

Daniel Griffiths, a 47-year-old nurse at UPMC Montefiore, sums up the consequences of such a high-tension environment in a simple, but powerful way:

“When stress is high, it becomes difficult to make easy choices,” Mr. Griffiths said, noting his recent trouble deciding among loops, flakes or pops. “After work, if I go to get cereal at the grocery store, it’s hard to make a choice.”

And that potent combination of exhaustion, indecision and weakened mental awareness is just the thing experts hope mindfulness will curb. But what exactly is it?

Mindfulness, with roots in Buddhism, long has been accepted psychotherapy for stress, anxiety, pain and trauma. It allows a person to enter into the present moment by focusing on breathing and the senses, leading to insight and mindful action. The ultimate outcome can be acceptance and transformation of suffering.

If you’re thinking “how wonderfully zen,” you’re probably not far off.

Katie Hammond Holtz, a Pittsburgh-based licensed psychologist, conducts mindfulness retreats, including recent sessions for nurses, nursing educators and leaders. Among other practices, she teaches mindful sitting, walking and movement, along with gentle yoga and deep relaxation. Participants during her retreats remain silent, with minds and senses alive to the moment.

And the trade-off is very much in the participants’ favor…

Studies show that nurses who practice mindfulness cope better with stress, reduce exhaustion, decrease rumination, enhance relaxation and improve life satisfaction, with measured improvements in patient care and satisfaction.

Also on the list of “people who could really use this type of thing”? U.S. military, athletes, healthcare professionals and CEOs. Here’s why:

When using it, “a whole lot drops away, including judgment and commentary as you focus attention on your breath,” said Carol M. Greco, assistant professor of psychiatry and a licensed psychologist at the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine. “The body just says ‘thank you’ and lets go of muscle tension. When muscle tension generally resolves, you have a sense of greater calm and relaxation.”

We witness the benefits in action here:

Laura Schubert, 23, of Crafton Heights, took the Feb. 13 class. The maternity-ward nurse at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC described the time she was caring for two pregnant women who delivered their babies simultaneously. “I was like a ping-pong ball,” she said. “You can’t be at two places at one time as your patients progress through labor at the same rate.

Such situations, she said, emphasize the benefits of the techniques she learned to preserve her mental and physical well-being.

Of course, mindfulness is just one of many techniques that nurses are implementing, but like the others, it’s rooted in a simple fact:

“Nursing is stressful,” stated Mary Rodgers Schubert, the nursing school director of continuing education, in promotional material for the workshops. “There are too many patients, not enough time and swiftly changing environments. The nursing profession can do more to help nurses take better care of themselves, and therefore, their patients.”

Intrigued? You can check out the full article here. Then, share your thoughts on the effectiveness of mindfulness in the comments section below.

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One Response to Peace of mind for nurses

  1. Dalila Sankaran

    I teach this and other stress management techniques at the start of each class in psych nursing. It only takes 5 minutes. Something my students can use in their busy life and career.

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