How Mindfulness Can Make Your Shift Go More Smoothly

Nursing is tough. Incorporating techniques from mindfulness that have been developed over millennia can make it a little less hard. The secret is in the practice.

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How Mindfulness Can Make Your Shift Go More Smoothly

It's three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon working in a rural hospital in the autumn of 2010. I'm a new nurse, barely six months under my belt working on a medical/surgical floor and I've just returned from the chapel room just off the hall of my unit. This is part of my routine. Every twelve-hour shift, I take at least a five-minute break (if not my full, contractual fifteen-minute break that I can't help but notice the smokers manage to find time for every day). I realized early on that I needed time to step away from the unit and be alone with my thoughts. These stolen moments offered me clarity to attack the logistical and medical issues that every day presents when you work as a nurse. Once I realized the difference this time-out provided I began to schedule myself a break every day. I felt less overwhelmed, I felt more confident in my decisions, and the care I provided my patients improved. 

There is mounting evidence that mindfulness can improve concentration, relieve stress, and improve overall health. According to the American Psychological Association, practicing mindfulness helps the body to reduce stress by altering regions of the brain associated with attention and emotional regulation.

Ten years later and I have expanded my mindfulness and meditation practice because of the real benefits I get from daily mindfulness. What started as a stolen quiet moment in the chapel room of my hospital snowballed into a more and more regular daily meditation and yoga practice that has informed how I handle the stresses of nursing.

I recently began reading Carmel Sheridan's "The Mindful Nurse: Using the Power of Mindfulness and Compassion to Help You Thrive in Your Work" in which she lays out an easy-to-access approach to daily mindfulness in nursing practice for any setting. It reminds me that mindfulness isn't only for holy spaces or special rooms with incense, but it can (and should) be anywhere and at any time.

Here are three ways to practice mindfulness at work

1- Do a repetitive task with intention

In "The Mindful Nurse", Sheridan suggests that many of a nurse's repetitive tasks like handwashing can serve as a meditative task. As nurses, we wash our hands ALL THE TIME. Going into a patient's room? Wash your hands. Leaving a patient's room? Wash your hands. Starting an IV? Wash your hands. Arriving on the floor for your shift? Wash your hands. You get the picture. But what if each time you washed your hands, it was an opportunity for you to be present in that moment? How might that feel? How might that change your day?

2- Focus on one task and do it well

Nurses get pulled in different directions throughout their shift, and if you're like me, it's easy to be distracted by your to-do list. Instead, write down your tasks somewhere, and save your brainpower for being fully present in each moment. Focusing on a task can help improve your memory and recall of what was said and what you observed, helping you with documentation later.

3- Leave your work in the bubble

All your thoughts and feelings, your worry and doubt, none of it has any use once you leave the building. Creating a ritual around leaving work can help you draw a dividing line between your workday and your personal life. This will help you be more present with what is most important in your life, giving you more energy to focus on other parts of your life besides work. For me, I imagine a bubble encompassing the entire hospital. When I leave work, I imagine my body passing effortlessly through the bubble, leaving behind all my thoughts and feelings about work in the bubble, freeing my mind.  

Working in healthcare can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. By incorporating these mindful practices into your daily life you can discover a healthier new dynamic with your work as a nurse.


Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress

The Mindful Nurse: Using the Power of Mindfulness and Compassion to Help You Thrive in Your Work

23 Amazing Health Benefits of Mindfulness for Body and Brain

Lee Anne is an RN with 13 years of experience specializing in infusion, oncology, and school nursing. She began yoga and meditation in nursing school to help cope with the stress and has been practicing ever since.

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Louise Mooney, RN

3 Articles; 9 Posts

Specializes in Holistic Nurse Coach and Freelance Writer. Has 34 years experience.

Great article. I like the 'bubble' analogy. Thanks for sharing!