The Mindful Nurse; Calm Amidst the Fire

By Alexis Knapp posted 02-13-2017 11:32


The Mindful Nurse: Calm Amid the Fire

The other day I saw a meme on Facebook. “Being a charge nurse is like riding a bike, only the bike’s on fire, and you’re on fire, and everything’s on fire, and you are in hell”.

I don’t see too much information on mindfulness for nurses. Of all the professions out there, I think we as nurses would benefit the most from mindfulness and meditation. Articles on mindfulness at work say “Leave your desk for a few minutes”. I’d like to sit at a desk for a few minutes. Then they say, “On your lunch break….” HAH, does that happen at your job? It sure doesn’t in mine.  And this one: “Set your phone app to chimes”! Well, running around a busy unit with call bells going off, I am pretty sure that even if I was allowed to have my phone on me, I would never hear the chime, and I really don’t need to have another mechanical ringtone asking me for one more thing. I read one about “Leaving your desk to go interact with people instead of emailing each other all day”. I think our goal at the beginning of the shift is to get to the desk at some point so we can sit down and chart, and very often it’s only at the very end of our shift that we make it back. I suppose we do catch up together in the med room, in the midst of all the madness. It’s the place to vent, swear, and share quick stories of how our shift is going with the other nurses who are just as crazed as you are.

 I understand that the norm is people working nine to five at a desk job. And I am glad that these articles on mindfulness are available to help them. But I don’t think people truly understand what nursing jobs entail. As an evening shift nurse, I get blank stares when I tell people I am awake until 2am and sleep until 10am. People can’t grasp that we work weekends, holidays, days, nights, evenings. And so, I am going to share what works for me, as a nurse, to keep it together in the trenches.

I won’t attempt to describe the madness at my workplace. If you are a nurse, you understand what it is. If not, just read the introduction to this blog again, and that’s a usual shift. Believe me, if you do not understand what we do, don’t go by what you see on television. I have yet to see nurses accurately portrayed in the media.

I started meditating regularly before work about two years ago. I can’t stress enough how it has changed my life, and I am by no means a pro. In fact, I don’t even know if I am doing it “right” but whatever I am doing is working, so I encourage you to try it. I won’t attempt to teach you how, there are plenty of resources for that available. I think the best advice was what my yoga teacher once said, to meditate before transitions. And so, try to sit before going to work, empty your mind, and breathe. It makes all the difference when you are standing in the middle of the fire four hours later, and you say to yourself “so glad I meditated before coming in”. If you can make yourself do this, I promise you will have a better shift.

The other thing you can do, and this is something I am still working on, is to take all those mindfulness tips, and modify them to work for us. I don’t know that we can get a communal Om in the med room, but perhaps we could just remember to breathe for a few seconds, look out a window while you’re waiting for your patient to come out of the bathroom, practice listening instead of reacting, grab a quick stretch where you can. When you are counting a patient’s respirations, be reminded to check in on your own.

 Meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation. Just keep trying.




09-01-2018 10:52

Hi Alexis!
I realize this post is from February 2017 but I hope you get a notification of this response. 
For the past year and a half I have devoted myself passionately to holistic nursing and learning to be mindful at work. And, like you, I am by no means a "pro". However, I love this approach to our work and believe that it is the key to creating a more compassionate nursing workforce. 

I would like to recommend the book: The Mindful Nurse: Using the Power of Mindfulness and Compassion to Help You Thrive in Your Work By Carmel Sheridan. There are very realistic pieces of advice in here. There area also a lot of resources provided by the American Holistic Nurse's Association ( Did you know that you can become a board certified holistic nurse?

Being holistic is usually a great source of pride for many of us as nurses but holistic SELF care is often overlooked. We want to be holistic with our patients but when it comes to ourselves I think we tend to focus on the physical aspect of self care: eating healthy and exercising rather than healing emotionally, spiritually, etc. Once I started investigating holistic nursing and learning about the depth of holistic self care, I learned about the many resources out there for us as nurses and our patients. It is definitely interrelated. 

I can go on forever about the importance of holistic nursing and mindfulness but I will just leave you with just a couple more points that you may already relate to. 

Being present with a patient shows that you care. They can sense it and it does benefit their health and yours. Sharing compassion in this way can actually heal the nurse and the patient as the nurse tends to suffer from compassion fatigue which is more like empathy fatigue and being mindfully compassionate and present with someone is synergistic. I believe I learned this from the book I mentioned above, The Mindful Nurse, but also with my experience as well. 

You can set an intention as you meditate that will help you stay present and remind you of your values as you work so you can stay focused. It is personal and depends on who you are and your unique challenges. This intention is like a mantra that you can use when you notice your stress response, it keeps you present and more likely to respond to events rather than to react and be distracted by stress. Some examples are "I can do this", "I am here for the good of this patient", "I can give and receive love", or, what I like to say, "Stay focused and be patient" which opens me up to being more compassionate and present with people. 

Like I said, I can go on forever about this because this is a great passion of mine and it is the main reason why I have not given up on nursing altogether.  It makes my work interesting and helps my ability to be resilient. 

I hope that someone sees this post and benefits! And, Alexis, if you see this, I'm interested where you are at with this now that is over a year later!

03-22-2017 11:06

Cindy good luck in your career! I worked telemetry for nine years, it's a good place to get lot's of experience. As for help with meditating, try They have lots of resources. Breathe!

03-22-2017 09:45

Alexis, thank you for your insight.  I am a brand new nurse working evenings on a telemetry floor.  I find it very hard sometimes to just breathe and not be all stressed out.  I am going to take your advice and look for help to learn how to meditate.