A little bit of stress helps each of us function better, but prolonged stress can be damaging both to our bodies and to our minds. Nurses are particularly prone to bouts of prolonged stress, due to many factors. First, nursing is a physical job with long work hours. Nurses also witness human suffering on a daily basis. They have great responsibility, yet often feel powerless to always do what they know needs to be done. Nurses are also challenged with navigating regulatory issues, compensating for organizational inefficiencies and staffing inadequacies, and adapting to new initiatives -- all while providing patient care. Last, many nurses don’t make their own care a top priority. The result can be chronic stress.
Chronic stress can exhibit itself through physical pain, anger, anxiety, depression, cynicism, exhaustion, lack of empathy, learning and memory issues, and problems with communication. These symptoms lead to diminished performance and eventual burnout. The organization as a whole also suffers, as the negative behaviors and emotions impact interpersonal relationships, and can damage recruitment and retention efforts.
One of the major goals of hospitals is to help nurses alleviate stress. In turn, nurses can then provide the highest level of care, achieve greater job satisfaction, experience better physical health and reduce their risk of burnout. As indicated in a recent issue of Nursing Management, one large facility in the Midwest partnered with a local nursing school to embark on an innovative method to relieve stress that has its roots in Buddhism. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been used in recent years on the patient side to help those with chronic illnesses. The hospital and nursing school developed an adaptation of MBSR for nurses and nursing students.
A gateway to achieving higher levels of self-awareness, practicing “mindfulness” helps nurses be more alert and attentive to their patients, while simultaneously harnessing negative behaviors and emotions. MBSR training offers an avenue for nurses to ground themselves, attend to their inner thoughts and emotions, achieve and maintain self-control, and regain the caring, compassionate attitudes that may be lost when occupational or personal stress isn’t properly managed.
The program’s purpose was to teach simple mindfulness techniques to reduce student stress during the nursing program. Likewise, the program was offered to critical care RNs in the hospital setting to help them be mindful and learn to “stay in the moment” while delivering patient care.
Mindfulness training evolved from Buddhist teachings. Meditation, gentle body stretches, and self-awareness are used as key motivators of self-discovery. Instead of thinking about the past or anticipating the future, MBSR participants are trained to become more attuned to their own surroundings and be fully present in the here and now. Characterized by nonjudgment, openness, curiosity, and acceptance, MBSR helps practitioners act rather than react. Participants are guided to stop thinking about what needs to be done next and begin to “pay attention to intention” and “be aware of awareness.” Through MBSR training, nurses are able to recognize the initial stages of stress, alleviate their physical reactions to stress quickly, and attune themselves to their patients.
The most significant challenge to implementing MBSR training for nurses is to develop a program that can accommodate their busy schedules. While the critical care nurses and nursing students found value in the 8-week pilot program, many of them didn’t finish the entire training, citing lack of time to devote to all of the sessions. The program was subsequently revised to introduce short mindfulness activities (bursts) that take no more than 5 minutes, conducted during shift changes. The exercises focus on one technique a week over a period of 8 weeks. All staff members can participate, without being off the unit or taking time away from their personal lives.
Do you think MBSR training would benefit you or someone you know? How does your facility and nurse management team work to alleviate stress in your workplace? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.