Mindfulness Meditation For Nurses
During the coronavirus pandemic, managing nurse stress has become more important now than ever before. COVID has brought extra hours on the job, required moves for some, and caused additional stress due to fears of contracting the virus at the workplace. The behind-the-scenes things nurses deal with bring stress levels that most people cannot begin to relate to.
Fortunately, there are a few stress-relieving modalities that can be done quickly and from almost anywhere (including a nurse’s break area). One of the most important being mindfulness meditation.
What is Mindfulness?
After a long, stressful day dealing with a pandemic, nurses still have to go home and do the same daily tasks everyone else does, such as grocery shopping, cooking, raising a family, and taking care of the home. Like many busy professionals, finding time for self-care as a nurse usually goes on the backburner.
According to the National Center For Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.”
In other words, the goal of mindfulness is to place your attention on the present. That is also the only thing we have control of at any given time – not what happened in the past or what might happen at some point in the future.
By tapping into our selves and being more mindful, we can decrease our own stress and anxiousness to handle each moment as it comes.
Additional Recommended Reading: 8 Ways Nurses Can Take Better Care Of Themselves
Mindfulness meditation for nurses
Mindfulness Meditation For The Beginner: How Do I Start?
When someone hears the phrase, “I’m going to practice meditation,” a common thought is, “What do they mean by practice?”
But that is exactly what it is – a practice – even for those experienced in meditation.
For nurses who already have a ton on their plates, a practice can be as little as 3-5 minutes. The more you make mediation a regular habit, the longer you will be able to sit in meditation.
Find a space, sit in a comfortable chair, or cross-legged on the ground. As you better your practice, you may start to lose track of time (ultimately a good thing), so be sure to set a timer if you are at work. Start your meditation by taking deep breaths and really focusing on each breath, as each breath epitomizes the “now.” Your mind will almost undoubtedly drift again, but catch yourself without any feelings of negativity and focus on the breathing again. Find your center for as long as you can during your allotted time.
If you continue to struggle to find that peace, you can also try guided meditations, which are available as apps or even on YouTube, and with these, calming music and a soothing voice lead you through the steps of breathing and focus and help with your practice.
It’s important to try to do this every day, but just as important to not get down on yourself if you can’t find the time on a given day, or are just too overwhelmed with stress to maintain focus for any amount of time. Pick it up the next day, and if you do it as often as you can, the world around you will seem more at peace and more bearable as you continue to take on your stressful-yet-extremely rewarding job as a nurse.
Additional Recommended Reading:
About the Author
Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she’s not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.
Preparing for 12-hour shifts as a registered nurse requires some prearranged groundwork and organization at home to ensure my day starts off on the right foot. As a working mom, I know I will be gone for a large chunk of time, so I do my best to make sure things are correctly set up at home the day before.
Additionally, as an ER nurse, I know how important it is that I take good care of myself so I can continue to give the best possible care to my family and patients. After all, I can’t expect others to listen to my health education if I don’t take my own advice and stay healthy too. No excuses!
(This post contains affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here.)
My top 4 working mom health tips:
#1. Grocery shop and prepare all meals in advance
I grocery shop every three days, so I can prepare meals for my toddlers and for each of my 12-hour shifts at the hospital in advance. To avoid scrambling at the last minute, I always make sure everything is ready and packaged to go the night before.
I prepare several options for the kid’s breakfasts, lunch, and dinner, including:
- Avocado or almond toast
- Bananas, apples, kiwis, various berries
- Black bean or chickpea pasta
- Cheese squares
- Veggies straws with hummus
- Veggie/fruit smoothies
- Sautéed veggies
Also, one day per week, I make a big batch of quinoa or brown rice and keep it handy in the fridge for quick meal preparation. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh, or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. This is so convenient because I can whip something up quickly for my work lunches, and I also have it on days I’m home with the kids.
The Nutribullet is by far my favorite meal prep tool.
To say I use it at least twice a day would be an understatement! This is my #1 working mom health tip. I make everything from veggie smoothies, to salad dressings, to soups and blended coffee drinks. It makes my life so much easier, especially now that we have kids and time is limited.
The nutribullet is my favorite food making tool.
I have a vegetable and berry smoothie with one tablespoon of Maca powder, flaxseed or hemp seeds for protein, and acai powder. I alternate my veggies between broccoli, spinach, or kale. For the berry part: strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, although sometimes I’ll add half a banana or mango.
I also make several mason jars (16oz) of overnight oats on Sundays with a variety of flavors:
- peanut butter and maple
- banana and walnut
- almond and raisin
Then I’ll either add ground flax seeds or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefit. And I’ll top with a dash of cinnamon. These make such an easy breakfast to go!
Mason jars make preparing breakfasts much easier.
#2. Sleep as much as possible before a 12-hour shift
12-hour shifts usually end up being closer to 14+ at the end of the day. And, many studies show that working 12-hour shifts is damaging to nurse health due to the length of time that nurses end up working. An increased risk of depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers have all been researched and publicized.
Since the shifts are not getting shorter anytime soon, the best thing that nurses can do to take care of themselves is rest as much as possible before shifts. Therefore, I make it a huge priority to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep before shifts. (This was so much easier before we had kids!)
A few things I use to help me sleep better at night:
- Eye mask and earplugs. After having kids, I realized that I am an incredibly light sleeper. Even the slightest noises wake me up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I have difficulty falling back asleep again, which is so frustrating when I work a 12-hour shift in the morning.
- Restorative yoga poses. I keep a yoga pillow and a yoga mat right next to the bed that I use for restorative yoga poses about 20 minutes before I try to go to sleep. It helps me decompress me from my day, check-in with myself, and put me into a snugly and sleepy mood.
A yoga pillow is great for restorative yoga poses!
I keep a yoga mat next to my bed for early morning and night yoga stretches.
#3 Get regular exercise on the off days
I always feel so much better when I get my heart rate up on my days off. The benefits of exercise have been well documented; it is essential for nurse self-care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood, and decreases stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also allows nurses to have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
For me, yoga has been a total game-changer for my stress levels. But it’s also great to change up the routine a bit, and I enjoy escaping with my headphones for a run and listening to music. Whatever you do is great, as long as you do it!
A blue tooth headset is great to use for a run or brisk walk.
Those who know me know I’m fanatical about compression socks. Wearing compression stockings helped me work all the way through two pregnancies, and I continue to wear them to this day. They help keep your legs energized, prevent varicose veins, and keep your ankles and feet from getting so swollen after being on your feet all day. Plus, they come in the cutest styles now.
Compression socks will save your legs and feet!
Being a nurse and mom is already hard enough.
But with a little preparation and focus on your well-being and time management, you can be both a healthy nurse and mom and give great care to your patients. It’s time to focus on nurse self-care!
We hope this list of working mom health tips for 12-hour shifts helps to make your life a little easier. Please leave a comment if you have anything you would like to add!
HEY NURSES! Remember to sign up for your FREE COPY of “The Nurse’s Guide To Health & Self Care” E-book in the signup box below! (scroll down)
Additional Recommended Reading
Working Mom Health Tips For 12 Hour Shifts
(This post may contain affiliate links. You can read my disclosure page here. For more information about collaborating with Mother Nurse Love click here).
Nurse, take care of yourself first.
This statement may appear counter intuitive. After all, aren’t nurses supposed to be selfless humans who give care to total strangers without concern for their own well being?
Two words: Absolutely NOT!
Nurses NEED to put themselves first so they have the stamina and good health to care for their patients and their own families. This is non-negotiable.
Staying healthy as a nurse is a win-win for everyone. First off, our families get a better version of us. Second, we have the energy and stamina to keep up with heavy patient workloads. And third, we have better relationships with our spouses and friends.
Most importantly though, nurses who take care of themselves are happier!
(Attention employers: studies show that happy, healthy nurses give higher quality of patient care. This results in a decrease in medical errors and improves patient satisfaction, which is very good for hospital PR and the overall patient experience. So support your nurses in their quest for a healthier lifestyle!)
8 Simple Ways Nurses Can Stay Healthy When Working 12 Hours Shifts!
Here are 8 ways nurses can stay healthy and practice better self-care on a daily basis:
#1. Protect your back: do core work!
As a result of years of heavy lifting many RN’s are suffering from chronic back problems. I know several nurses who have had to go out on disability and sadly still suffer from permanent chronic back pain.
Chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. There is good news though: the review also presented an overwhelming amount of studies that found that regular yoga significantly reduced symptoms associated with chronic low back pain and greatly improved overall physicality. Yoga poses (like plank pose) help you create a stronger core. So say yes to yoga!
By working on your core at home, you can preemptively protect your back from some of the wear-and tear you are going to experience as a busy RN. You STILL NEED to use good body mechanics while lifting and turning patients- this is imperative! But by working your core you help strengthen your back and help prevent injuries from occurring over the course of your nursing career.
Compression stockings help increase circulation of blood flow and oxygen by helping increase the velocity, or speed of blood flow. By squeezing on the legs, the veins carrying blood to the heart are compressed. Think of how when you squeeze a hose, it squirts the water out faster. With compression stockings, the same volume of blood is able to move up the leg, but it has less area in which to move.
Standing for long periods of time causes valves in the veins to become weakened, causing blood to collect in the veins. This causes the veins to enlarge and increase in pressure. The veins then stretch from the increased pressure and cause varicose veins, which can be painful and unsightly!
A study by The Society of Occupational Medicine found that wearing compression stockings significantly decreased lower limb venous pressure in nurses who stood for very long hours. The data found that compression stockings protected against oxidative stress in those who work in long-standing occupations.
(Learn more about the best compression stockings and socks for nurses here!)
#3. Practice yoga
Yoga stretching not only increases flexibly, but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain. In a career as physically demanding as nursing, the more physically stable we are, the better care we can give to ourselves and our patients.
A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only 8 weeks of yoga the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a major reduction in perceived mental pressure. If that is what can happen after only 8 weeks, imagine the impact a regular, permanent yoga practice could have on stress management levels.
Check out Yoga For Nurses for easy to follow instructional videos. Then, read more about why nurses NEED yoga here.
#4. Stay away from break room junk
Weight can creep up on healthcare workers who wear comfy, loose-fitting scrubs to work everyday, without you even noticing it!
Patients and staff often like to bring unhealthy snacks like donuts, cakes or cookies into the nurse break rooms as a “thank you” to nurses. This gesture is very “sweet” of them, however it doesn’t do our health or waistlines any good. Suggest bringing in fruit or veggie platters as a healthy treat for nurses instead.
One of the best ways nurses can stay healthy by preventing weight gain is to grocery shop in advance and prepare meals the night before a shift. That way you are not tempted to order take out or reach for high sugar goodies when you are starving at break time.
One day per week I make a big batch of quinoa and keep it handy in the fridge for myself. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. Not only does this help me make healthy lunches for work, but I also have delicious leftovers ready to eat when I get home from a long 12 hour shift.
(You can read more about how I prepare for a 12 hour shift here.)
#5. Consider working per diem
Per diem means: for each day. As a nurse, I am literally employed “by the day.” Hospitals need per diem nurses to cover staffing needs in the hospital, which can vary by the day or season.
Per diem nursing has been a game-changer for me as a working mom. It is so flexible that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to being a career RN again.
Here are a few benefits I found when I became a per diem nurse:
- Significantly higher per hour pay
- Work as little as one day a week or as many as five days a week (as long as there is a need)
- Make own schedule (if the hospital doesn’t need me they call me off)
- Cancel at the last minute (as long as it is by 3am)
- Add on a shift at the last minute
- Incredible opportunities for learning and professional growth
- Work in many different specialties: Emergency Room, Cardiac, Liver Transplant, Medicine, Neuroscience and Stroke, or Oncology, and more
- Opportunities to “master in” to a unit that is chronically short on staffing needs for a period of time: this guarantees a certain number of hours and gives an opportunity to go to the same unit for weeks or months at a time
Of course, there are also several drawbacks to being a per-diem nurse as well. It is not for every nurse. (You can read more about how per diem nursing helped me find a work-life balance here).
#6. Get good sleep
Nurses work very long hours and night shifts, which interrupts the normal sleep pattern.
Help yourself by creating an environment at home that is conducive to sleeping, even during daytime hours.
- Install blackout shades in your bedroom.
- Disconnect electronics that artificially lighten a dark room.
- Wear an eye mask.
- Purchase quality ear plugs so that the guy mowing his lawn next door doesn’t wake you up at noon when you are finally entering your REM cycle.
When I first started working night shifts I even went so far as to use “blue blocker” sunglasses when I was driving myself home at 8’o clock in the morning. (“Blue blockers” are the aviator style sunglasses that Zack Galifianakis and the baby wore in “The Hangover.” Who new one of the best ways nurses can stay healthy involves also looking stylishly cool?).
“Blue blockers” have orange glass lenses that cut the blue portion of the light spectrum. This helps prevent the light-inducted melatonin suppression and helps make it easier to fall asleep after seeing the morning sun.
#7. Meditate for 5 minutes a day
One of the best ways nurses can stay healthy is through meditation. Meditation is the practice of focusing your mind on a particular thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.
A few benefits of meditation:
- decreased burnout
- better focus and ability to ignore distractions
- boost compassion
- better sleep
- stress relief
- happier state of mind
Headspace is an app for your phone that has many different meditations each lasting 1o to 60 minutes. If you can find 10 minutes in your day then you have no excuse not to meditate! Meditation is attainable for even the busiest of nurses!
I listen to Headspace with my headphones most nights before I go to bed. It helps me relax after a long day and even helps me to get a better nights sleep.
Like yoga, meditation is a practice. There is no good or bad. It is just what it is at the time. You can keep practicing to train your mind to do better the next time. And then eventually your brain is rewired by the habitual repetition of meditation and it becomes easier.
#8. Practice gratitude
Intentionally choose gratitude.
Try keeping a gratitude journal. Writing down what you are grateful for consciously reminds you that even though being a nurse is frustrating at times, the good stuff far outweighs the bad. It keeps you aligned with the positive aspects of being a nurse that we should keep our energy focused on: giving great patient care and helping save lives.
I love being a nurse, despite the fact that is it overwhelming and at times even maddening. Practicing gratitude helps me recognize how lucky I am to be a nurse who gets to help other people as my profession. I go home everyday with a sense of accomplishment that even I can “be the change I wish to see in the world.”
Additional recommended reading: