It's easy to get caught up in our day-to-day tasks and lose track of our physical and mental states. At times, everyone experiences the feeling of having completed a task without fully noticing that we even started.
In the nursing profession, with all of its procedures and endless responsibilities, it can be easy to slip into autopilot while working long shifts. "It's really common that the nurses are so busy and so preoccupied that they get disconnected from their own body's experiences," said Susan Bauer-Wu, Ph.D, RN, FAAN and current president of the Mind and Life Institution. "Sometimes they don't eat, sleep or even go to the bathroom."
Not only is this unhealthy for nurses; it can also have a huge impact on the way they interact with their patients. Luckily, there is one practice that is taught during most nursing programs that can help them stay connected.
If you Google mindfulness, the technical definition is, "A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations."
Bauer-Wu, a former Emory professor, has been an advocate for mindfulness for over 20 years. During her time in Atlanta, she helped integrate the study of mindfulness into the nursing school and the university as whole. "For nurses, many of them went into the field because of their ability to connect with people and make a difference in their lives," Bauer-Wu said. "Mindfulness is a path to help us reconnect with what brings meaning to the profession. It brings humanity back to healthcare."
Outside of the nursing profession, mindfulness has also been used successfully in other areas like teaching and dieting.
In practice, mindfulness can be exercised in many different ways. The goal is to reach a state where you're able to focus on what's going on in the present moment. Bauer-Wu said two common ways to do this include bringing awareness to your breathing and performing body scans.
To start a breathing exercise, try to settle your mind and still your body. If possible, close your eyes. Breathe in and out and try to explore all the sensations related to the inhaling and exhaling process.
To perform a body scan, start by settling your mind and stilling your body. From there, try tuning into the different sensations of your body beyond just your breath. The key is to be curious and open to what your body is experiencing. Focusing on your body should help you feel more grounded in the present.
Reduced stress - Mastering mindfulness can help keep stress levels down and help nurses avoid burnout.
Improved focus - "If nurses can focus more, then their assessment skills are better, they're more likely to identify problems happening with patients and they can more skillfully intervene in a timely manner," Bauer-Wu said.
Enhanced presence - When nurses are more present, they're also more compassionate. Patients and family will feel like they're getting better care, which ultimately impacts patient satisfaction.
The next time you catch yourself running on autopilot, find a moment to practice mindfulness. If you do it on a regular basis, you might notice yourself becoming more present in your life and feeling less stressed overall.