Mindfulness At Work

Mindfulness is not just a technique, but a life strategy to mentally, physically, and emotionally remain present, balanced and in control. With a few simple but effective strategies, mindfulness can be incorporated into the reality of day-to-day living, and significantly impact quality of life. Nurses General Nursing Article


Mindfulness At Work

There has always been an expectation for a nurse to become good at multitasking to be proficient and productive. But science has proven our brains are not designed to focus on more than one thing at a time, and doing so is at the expense of the very thing we're trying to accomplish. In fact, according to a Harvard study, a person's mind drifts off track an average of 47% of the time. Add to that the endless demands and whirlwind of disruption in a nurse's day and we have the perfect storm to be anything but efficient.

What is Mindfulness?

The term "mindfulness" has gained, and continues to gain great popularity. And for good reason. Simply put, to be mindful, is to be fully aware of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. Instead of functioning on autopilot, you are wholly conscious and aware of what's going on around you externally and internally, e.g., sensations and emotions.

Mindfulness is not new. With deep Buddhist roots, its reputation for positive effects has spread past religions and cultures, crossing over and integrating into the medical arena. For the past two decades, mindfulness has been extensively studied and clinically researched. Today, it is actively used in psychotherapy treatments such as depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

Evidence-based benefits of mindfulness

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Enhances positive thoughts and mood
  • Improves mental clarity, attention and creativity
  • Expands emotional intelligence and working memory
  • Develops resiliency and emotional reactivity
  • Increases self-awareness

The key is consistent application. By incorporating this practice into your everyday, over time, mindfulness can actually change the brain's neuroplasticity, specifically in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. This is why the benefits listed above can make an accumulative difference in a person's quality of life.

So, How Do You Become Mindful?

And, how do you transition it into your day and busy work life?


Diversions are everywhere – a call bell (or ten), the phone, a knock on your office door. Once you turn your full attention to that distraction, you begin to recognize how that stimulus causes your mind to wander from what you were already doing. You will also become familiar with your physical response, e.g., tensing your shoulders, increased heart rate, or holding your breath. This is the moment you've stepped into the present moment.

Start short and sweet

By immediately applying this principle on the job may set you up for failure. Best to begin practicing mindfulness at home with succinct activities like brushing your teeth or washing your face.

Fully experience the activity using all five senses

For example, pay attention to the taste and texture of the food you're eating, the temperature of the room, the surface of the floor under the soles of your feet, the aroma of that cup of coffee resting warmly in your hands, the sensation of the water as it splashes your face.

Increase your mindfulness muscle

As you get into the habit, increase your mindfulness muscle by remaining present in more challenging environments such as waiting in line or commuting to work.

Introduce what you've learned

When you feel ready, introduce what you've learned to your work day. Begin by walking mindfully as you move from one area to another, or eating the salad on your lunch break. Move on to conversations by listening actively and giving your peers and/or patients your undivided attention. Prioritize each task as it comes, finishing one before moving on to the next.

From there, look for more opportunities to practice mindfulness. The word "practice" infers a learning curve. Just like learning a sport or playing a musical instrument, it takes time to build the mindfulness muscle. There will be days your best intentions to remain mindful all fly out the window – there always are.


1- Check in regularly with your body

See where you're holding tension. Be aware of physical reactions to situations such as tensed muscles like your neck and shoulders, or clenched jaw.

2- Pay attention to your thoughts

Did the negative self-talk creep in again? If so, smile and appreciate the fact that you've become aware of them – you are in the present moment. You may even begin to identify habitual thought patterns that don't serve your best interest.

3- Pause, and breathe

If you catch yourself falling off track and overwhelmed, pause, and breathe. Three to five deep, focused breaths can leave you feeling centred and in control once more. Above all, be patient and gentle with yourself. The more you apply mindfulness to your day-to-day, the easier this process will be. It won't happen overnight, but when practiced consistently, mindfulness will become invaluable to your overall quality of life.


Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention: National Center for Biotechnology Information: National Library of Medicine

What are the benefits of mindfulness: American Psychological Association

Mindfulness meditation appears to help improve sleep quality: ScienceDaily

Mindfulness-based therapy could offer an alternative to antidepressants for preventing depression relapse: ScienceDaily

Multitasking Splits the Brain: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Stella Freiberg has more than 35 years nursing experience and is currently specializing in healthy aging and brain health.

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Davey Do

1 Article; 10,370 Posts

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years).

A worthy article, Stella- well put with bottom line good advice.

Another method of focusing is to have an ongoing internal narration with oneself, e.g. "I am pulling the med from the Pyxis, I am checking to make sure it is the correct med & dosage..."

Often times, when we do so-called brainless tasks, we also do something Daniel Gilbert in his book, "Stumbling on Happiness" termed "nexting", where we're planning in our heads what we're going to do once we've completed what we're doing.

Often times, I worked my MN shift sleep-deprived and reality sometimes seemed fuzzy. On one of those occasions, I wrote in my journal, along with a drawing of two legs with shoes, "Just put one foot in front of the other" to reinforce the fact that I could do my job if I systematically focused upon the task at hand, taking it one step at a time.


4 Articles; 2,475 Posts

Specializes in New Critical care NP, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC.

A nicely written article, but easier said than done! I truly appreciate how these techniques could be life changing, and for the better. And perhaps I'm just covering up for my own laziness, but this ends up in the same bucket for me as self-reflection and meditation. Things that I know could be good for me, but I don't ever seem to get there. As was reflected in my recent annual review "you're always getting up and going somewhere, so you sometimes get behind in your notes". Yep, that's me.  

I have tried meditation and about 30 seconds in I'm making a grocery list, or running through the errands that need doing, or the schedule for the family for the rest of the week. I have more success when it comes of safety concerns at work. Medication administration is an area where I can find my focus because there's a clear and very important and game there.

I'll try again when I'm brushing my teeth tonight. Maybe someday something will click and I'll be mindful, self-reflective and meditative. Until then I'll be off chasing squirrels on the unit...


1 Article; 2 Posts

Specializes in Brain Health & Dementia Care.

Hey there. Thanks for your feedback! I totally agree with Gilbert's "nexting". If we're not thinking about the future, we're reliving the past. Presence is the sweet spot. And yes, it's easier said than done. JBMmom - I encourage you to keep trying. You're medication pour is an excellent example and proof that you can do it if need be. Personally, I've found starting small is the best way to develop a new habit. Like the toothbrushing - how did that go by the way? Practicing mindfulness is a gift you give yourself - you're worth it. Hang in there 😊

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