By David Templeton
Caring for patients can be “organized chaos,” nurses say. As the foot soldiers of health care, they function at the pressure point, the front lines of the war zone, where “you have to be flawless.”
“You can’t make one mistake,” said Daniel Griffiths, 47, of Greenfield, a nurse at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Montefiore. “It’s physically draining. You’re on your feet for a 12-hour shift.”
It helps explain why stress levels in nursing can lead to mental and physical exhaustion, burnout, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and sleep disorders. These occupational hazards, in turn, trespass onto one’s free time.
“When stress is high, it becomes difficult to make easy choices,” Griffiths said, noting his recent trouble deciding among loops, flakes or pops. “After work, if I go to get cereal at the grocery store, it’s hard to make a choice.”
Stress levels among its ranks have prompted the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing to sponsor training workshops in mindfulness meditation for regional nurses. About 50 participated in two daylong training sessions recently at a local facility.
Mindfulness, with roots in Buddhism, long has been accepted psychotherapy for stress, anxiety, pain and trauma. It allows a person to enter into the present moment by focusing on breathing and the senses, leading to insight and mindful action. The ultimate outcome can be acceptance and transformation of suffering.
The U.S. military, athletes, health-care professionals and even corporate CEOs have adopted mindfulness meditation. And it’s no wonder. While benefiting mental and physical health, relaxation and keener focus improve decision-making, productivity, negotiating powers and conflict resolution.
Katie Hammond Holtz, a Pittsburgh-based licensed psychologist, conducts mindfulness retreats, including the recent sessions for nurses, nursing educators and leaders. Among other practices, she teaches mindful sitting, walking and movement, along with gentle yoga and deep relaxation. Participants during her retreats remain silent, with minds and senses alive to the moment.