How can we, as busy nurses, integrate our scientific training with a more spiritual approach? As nurses, we are typically a task-oriented, skill-driven, grounded group of professional thinkers. So practices like visualization, guided imagery, and meditation may sound a bit like “hocus-pocus” to us.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Registered nurses help individuals, families, and groups to achieve health and prevent disease’. I love that. We help people to ‘achieve health and prevent disease’. I also discovered that the American Nurses Association (ANA) states ‘Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations’. Again, the promotion of health, optimization of abilities, and prevention of illness are highlighted.
Now you might be thinking: “Well, duh! We know this about our profession. But what does this have to do with my own self-care? How are these definitions linked to spirituality, metaphysics, and this “woo-woo” of holism?”
Wow. How’s that for a bold statement? But let me share this with you- I’ve been a nurse on an inpatient unit. I’ve given out medications, hung IVs, prepped for procedures, followed orders, done assessments, etc. I know the tasks, skills, and science that go into nursing. But none of that can be done as productively or effectively as when a nurse takes care for themselves first and foremost.
And here’s one reason why: if you are not present, focused, mindful, and aware- you are not practicing as best you can. So what can we do about it? Well, we keep all of the science, the skills, the concrete tasks… but we add to these valuable tools. And one tool I share with you here today- is one that can help with stress reduction, focus, memory, and empathy. Sounds good since we are a profession of caring, hard-working professionals, right?
One practice that you can begin today which will point you in the right direction with respect to balancing science with spirituality is very simple: meditation. You may be thinking, “Yeah right; how can meditation help with focus, memory, and stress reduction?” Well, research backs up this practice on many levels.
Psychiatry Research published a study in 2011 that showed participants who went through an eight week mindful based stress reduction program (MBSR) had changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.
Another study from the 2007 online edition of the PloS Biology Journal, found that meditators have a longer attention span than non-meditators. Meditation can improve performance on a novel task that requires trained attention capabilities.
Well how does this impact us as nurses? To me, if we incorporate this practice into our daily routine we will be more focused on our tasks, more present while performing skills, and more mindful with our patients. To me, this partnership of science and spirituality is a match-made in heaven, a wonderful idea… and just one simple way to incorporate a self-care technique into your daily practice.
Do you practice any form of meditation? If so, what benefits have you received from your practice? If not, what questions do you have about getting started? Leave a comment below and thanks for reading!
About the Author: As a speaker, workshop facilitator, and Reiki Master, Elizabeth partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Your Next Shift Workshop, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver.