As society becomes more aware of the adverse impact that daily stressors have on health and happiness, more people have turned to mindfulness and meditation as forms of self-care. Mindfulness involves consciously attending to our experiences — our thoughts, feelings, sensations or surroundings — with interest and kindness. All too often we live on autopilot, reacting quickly and not thinking about the impact our actions and words have on ourselves and on others, in both personal and professional environments.
For some professions, practicing mindfulness can be an important and powerful tool. This is especially true in nursing, as it can provide a healthy antidote to what can often be a stressful job. Every day nurses deliver crucial support to patients, console families and welcome new lives into the world. As a hospital nurse for more than 20 years, I know it takes tremendous compassion and emotional strength to navigate the fast-paced and often high-stress work environment of this demanding vocation.
To balance these stressors and help caregivers cope and navigate situations that can be emotionally challenging at times, Dignity Health encourages nurses to practice mindfulness to allow for more connection and human kindness. This practice helps nurses focus on taking care of themselves and improving their own personal health and well-being so they can be more present and in the moment when with patients.
One way we at Dignity Health are able to create more mindfulness is through our “Reflective Pause” program, which encourages nurses to set aside a few minutes each day to reflect and renew. This can be accomplished by going for a walk, sitting in the hospital healing garden, enjoying a cup of coffee or just gathering one’s thoughts before walking into a patient’s room. These moments allow our staff to take a few deep breaths, re-center, refocus and clear their minds.
Personally, I like to encourage nurses to take a clear, conscious breath before opening a door to a patient’s room, picking up the phone to call a colleague or starting a new task. This allows them to become more present and to move through their days with integrity and intent. Taking those few seconds to become aware of their breath can help them feel more grounded and, in turn, facilitate healing connections with others.
Just the other day, a nurse shared a story with me about how a colleague was unhappy about a particular assignment she was given. She told me that instead of playing into her colleague’s negativity, she used her mindfulness and compassion skills training to take a different approach. She actively and consciously switched to positive thinking and went out of her way to support her fellow nurse as she navigated the task at hand. This mindfulness and shift in perspective helped her colleague feel more supported that day, and improved both of their days.
At one Dignity Health hospital, the telemetry nurses begin each shift with a two-minute “mindfulness huddle” to help the team focus on the day ahead. During this huddle, they also recognize each other for work well done, and agree upon a motivational phrase that will carry them throughout the shift. This pre-shift huddle prepares the nurses to handle stressful situations better, and to feel more connected with their patients and peers.
But it’s not just nurses who can benefit from mindfulness. We can all learn a lesson from this practice. Mindfulness helps you take care of yourself first so you can better care for others. This doesn’t just apply to medicine. Each day we all make connections with our friends, family, co-workers and even strangers on the street. How we interact with them comes from within. Taking time to care for ourselves, quieting our minds and focusing in on a moment, can help us better connect with ourselves and with others, making us healthier and happier.
When we practice mindfulness, it can improve our own lives and the lives of those around us. Dignity Health is creating a movement in health care, by working to unleash the healing power of humankindness.