Self-Care & Spirituality… What’s the Science Behind the ‘Woo Woo’ Factor?

by | May 13, 2015 | 16 comments

Bridge the Science with the Art of Nursing: Practice Meditation for Self-Care #nursingfromwithinHow 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?

[Tweet “Self-care is the most crucial piece to being a good nurse.”]

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.

[Tweet “Meditation is not hocus-pocus.”]

Balance the Art with the Science of Nursing: Practice Meditation for Self-Care #nursingfromwithinPsychiatry 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.

This post was part of the Nurse Blog Carnival. More posts on this topic can be found at http://thebossynurse.comIf you are interested in participating find out more details and sign up.

16 Comments

  1. The Yoga Nurse®

    Yes, I totally agree, the practice of science and spirituality IS the foundation of my own personal practice and transformed my life. The word selfain-care contains the word “self.” In the spiritual practice of meditation, we reconnect and center to our true Self nature with a Capital S. From this center we are strengthened (evidence based benefits), nurses are better able to continue with the myriad challenges of the daily life.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Wonderful, Annette. Thank you for providing even more background to this important topic. I am glad that you also see the practice of science and spirituality as the foundation of your transformed life. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for coming by and sharing your wisdom!

      Reply
  2. exceptionalnurse

    Elizabeth,
    I was late to begin practicing meditation (better late than never!). At the end of every yoga practice, I attend they close with meditation exercises. I would recommend this approach.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Awesome to hear that you would recommend this, Donna. And yes, what a beautiful way to end Yoga practice. Thanks for sharing your experiences and taking the time to comment on the post.

      Reply
  3. Eileen Spillane

    Thanks for taking the woo woo out of of meditation Elizabeth. As a meditation teacher, I find nurses have become so accustomed to the busy, frenetic mind. By starting with short increments, (even 5 minutes) we can build the capacity to be quiet with ourselves, which ultimately has incredible restorative effects.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      You are very welcome, Eileen. I am sure we have had similar experiences with sharing meditation practice with nurses. You are right about the busy mind that a nurse is accustomed to. You’re doing great things with helping them allow for short increments of reflection! Thank you for sharing your experiences and feedback on the post.

      Reply
  4. Joyce Fiodembo

    Elizabeth, I like how you point out that whatever nurses do cannot be done as productively or effectively as when a nurse takes care for themselves first and foremost. Beginning with ourselves is crucial. Great Post!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thank you so much, Joyce. Great to hear it pointed out that way- thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Enjoy the day.

      Reply
  5. Kelly Payne

    Thanks Elizabeth.
    I never think I have time to squeeze in “something else” to do in my day, meditation would fall into this category. I am interested in giving this a try especially how you found that meditators have a longer attention span – this would benefit us all.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Hi Kelly,

      As some of the other have suggested below in their comments, you can start with as little as five minutes a day. Try that out and see if you feel and results. Then, if you do, you can go for longer. But don’t overdo it as you will surely have other priorities that will take over that time. Enjoy the day!

      Elizabeth

      Reply
  6. bethboynton80539889

    Great piece and dialogue, Elizabeth. I’m sort of a sporadic meditator in the traditional sense, but (I mean and!) find that dancing, swimming, and walking can also help me to relax and become present. Not necessarily on the job though. Yesterday I was riding some waves with my boogey board in York, ME and the water was so nice I found myself just floating and looking out to sea for a bit….just being there…up and down with the waves…..

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Hi Beth! Great points. You CAN meditate while in action. In fact, I have found that nurses (who generally like to stay busy) have a more difficult time with the sitting mediation. They seem to prefer meditating in action. Which is totally do-able. Being that we are 100% focused on the task and in the present moment. And thanks so much for sharing your take on staying present in the surf. I enjoyed that and will try it this weekend as I will be back at the beach.

      Reply
  7. Big Red Carpet Nurse

    I’ve often used a toolbox metaphor. Most nurses need more tools: more options, more tactics to assess and manage any given problem. Schools and hospitals offer precious little on people skills, self-help, coping skills, ways to built up one’s strengths as you describe. When you use a poor quality or inappropriate tool for a task, the task feels harder, and you feel less competent. I’m glad to see you offering such fine tools, and doing so very effectively. Thanks – Greg

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Ooooh- I love this tool box metaphor, Greg. And you are so right. We need a variety of options to find what works best for us. Thanks for coming by and sharing your perspective!

      Reply
  8. crnacareerpro

    Very insightful post Elizabeth! I agree 100% with what you said, “if you are not present, focused, mindful, and aware- you are not practicing as best you can.” Our patient deserve the best care possible, and for us to do that we have to take care of ourselves. Thank you for the post.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      You are so welcome. I am glad that you found it useful. I appreciate your comments and do agree that when we are present our patients benefit most!

      Reply

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