Using Mindfulness to Improve Your Nursing Practice

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN - 08/19/19

As nurses, part of our training is to accomplish a set of tasks with each patient throughout the shift and it’s easy to get caught on autopilot. Much of nursing is a task-oriented but needs the art of touch to complete the quality care. Focusing on completing tasks is important to ensure they are all accomplished, and nothing is forgotten. However, completing the day without ever noticing the little things cannot only trip us up and allow for mistakes to made, it also makes one day just like the others. It robs us of the joy of nursing and helping others.

According to Carmel Sheridan, author of The Mindful Nurse: Using the Power of Mindfulness and Compassion to Help you Thrive in your Work, research has shown that the average person spends 47% of their time on autopilot. Nurses easily fall into this trap because there are so many tasks to complete in a day and autopilot allows them to seemingly utilize less energy doing so.

Relationship Between Mindfulness and Compassion

If every day is just like the previous one and so on and so on, it’s easy to feel dissatisfied and lose interest and compassion. Compassion is an essential tool for nurses. By using mindfulness techniques, nurses can actually enhance their compassion, reduce stress and improve the quality of care they provide. This in turn improves the rewards nurses can achieve through job satisfaction and the knowledge of making a difference for their patients.

Mindfulness involves the practice of setting an intention to be present in the moment and focus your full attention to tasks and encounters. To achieve this state, there are a number of exercises that can teach you to utilize mindfulness to enhance the experience for you and your patient. Surprisingly, it won’t take more time, and it is possible to master quickly. It will improve the quality of care and outcomes. Practicing mindfulness and self-care for yourselves will also improve coping mechanisms, communication skills, and personal relationships. It will also decrease anxiety, stress and burnout.

Simple Breathing Expands Capacity to Be Fully Present

Learning to be present in the moment involves a simple exercise to build up your mental muscles to center yourself. Simply breathe and pay full attention to your breathing. Don’t force it, just breathe naturally. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you breathe in and out. Is your jaw clenched? Are you anxious? Do you feel rushed or is it difficult to focus? Take some mindful breaths and let the tension and anxiety dissolve. Stay focused on your breathing for a few moments and don’t allow your mind to wander. Pull your mind back to focusing on the breathing. This simple meditation will help you learn to build your capacity to focus as your mental activity slows down and allows better concentration.

If you utilize this simple breathing meditation before you enter a patient’s room, it will help expand your capacity to be present in the moment and focus on the experience with your patient as you approach the tasks at hand. Your parasympathetic nervous system will activate and cause a relaxation response which in turn will allow you to feel more centered and be fully present with your patient. There are even more exercises including yoga and other forms of medication to learn and enhance your mindfulness.

Neuroscience presents evidence that the regions of your brain responsible for attention, problem solving, and intentional action will be enhanced as you practice this more and more. Your amygdala will be more engaged as well. You will be more aware of what’s actually happening around you and to your patient. Your ability to focus and see situations more clearly will help you to problem-solve and respond to situations instead of reacting. This will improve your own self-care as well as improve the care and outcomes for your patient. Another benefit will be that more can be accomplished in less time because of your improved awareness while closing out distractions. Outcomes will also improve.

Mindful Communication

With an improved keen awareness mindful communication can be achieved. A more focused approach to patient care means that you the nurse are aware of far more details and able to plan and focus the care and patent education where it is needed. It also means decisions are not just autopilot reactions based on broad standards of care that are not patient-centered. Nurses can then delegate tasks with improved oversight and safety. This will improve the sense of teamwork and ease many of the stresses of patient care. Mindfulness will also contribute to patient safety with fewer medical mistakes and errors.

Mindfulness becomes a way of life as you set intentions and focus your attention to your patients’ specific needs. In addition, your own your experience will improve. You will find yourself responding more and reacting or judging less. Through this improved receptivity and awareness, you will find a deeper understanding of clinical situations and problem-solving. Your patients will have a better connection with you and appreciate your compassion, your knowledge, and your expertise.