Peace of Mind for Nurses

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

There’s no question that a nurse’s day-to-day routine translates into a level of stress that, over a very short amount of time, threatens to take a serious toll on one’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. To combat an epidemic of nurse burnout, a widespread effort to improve conditions and provide relief is underway. And not surprisingly, the approach is multifaceted.

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives us a glimpse into a practice that aims to help reduce stress, improve cognitive function and offer a higher quality of life: mindfulness.

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.”

Daniel Griffiths, a 47-year-old nurse at UPMC Montefiore, sums up the consequences of such a high-tension environment in a simple, but powerful way:

“When stress is high, it becomes difficult to make easy choices,” Mr. 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.”

And that potent combination of exhaustion, indecision and weakened mental awareness is just the thing experts hope mindfulness will curb. But what exactly is it?

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.

If you’re thinking “how wonderfully zen,” you’re probably not far off.

Katie Hammond Holtz, a Pittsburgh-based licensed psychologist, conducts mindfulness retreats, including 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.

And the trade-off is very much in the participants’ favor…

Studies show that nurses who practice mindfulness cope better with stress, reduce exhaustion, decrease rumination, enhance relaxation and improve life satisfaction, with measured improvements in patient care and satisfaction.

Also on the list of “people who could really use this type of thing”? U.S. military, athletes, healthcare professionals and CEOs. Here’s why:

When using it, “a whole lot drops away, including judgment and commentary as you focus attention on your breath,” said Carol M. Greco, assistant professor of psychiatry and a licensed psychologist at the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine. “The body just says ‘thank you’ and lets go of muscle tension. When muscle tension generally resolves, you have a sense of greater calm and relaxation.”

We witness the benefits in action here:

Laura Schubert, 23, of Crafton Heights, took the Feb. 13 class. The maternity-ward nurse at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC described the time she was caring for two pregnant women who delivered their babies simultaneously. “I was like a ping-pong ball,” she said. “You can’t be at two places at one time as your patients progress through labor at the same rate.

Such situations, she said, emphasize the benefits of the techniques she learned to preserve her mental and physical well-being.

Of course, mindfulness is just one of many techniques that nurses are implementing, but like the others, it’s rooted in a simple fact:

“Nursing is stressful,” stated Mary Rodgers Schubert, the nursing school director of continuing education, in promotional material for the workshops. “There are too many patients, not enough time and swiftly changing environments. The nursing profession can do more to help nurses take better care of themselves, and therefore, their patients.”


Intrigued? You can check out the full article here. Then, share your thoughts on the effectiveness of mindfulness in the comments section below.


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. Agree, agree, agree, agree. Until the State agencies who regulate and set the “mimimum” staff to patient ratios take a look at what is really going on, for example, how long it actually takes to wash, dress, feed and medicate one end stage dementia resident, instead of finding “nurse errors”, it might be realized that 13 to 1 for an aide or 28 to 1 for a nurse are not only unrealistic but unsafe numbers in LTC, nothing will change. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

  2. Getting rid of one of the root causes of today’s issues, “linking reimbursement to patient satisfaction” would go a long way towards stopping the insanity. Nurses could then care for their patients compassionately while expecting to be treated with respect. We all have had that person who has unrealistic expectations and “demands” keeping us from our other patients. When you try to explain to Mr. Smith that you’ll be happy to get him another cup of coffee (the 26th cup this hour), and ask if there’s anything else he needs, tell him you’ll return in about an hour to check on him then walk out the door and the call light goes off before you clear the threshold. You decide to keep going because it’s 1045 and you haven’t passed a single med and the next thing you know management is calling you in because Mr. Smith has complained he had to wait an HOUR for someone to come to his room. Management doesn’t care what you say or how unreasonable the patient is, you have just committed a crime worse than his death and the punishment is—write up and a hanging, (after the shift is over of course because they are short two nurses already). This nonsense exists because if the patient isn’t happy the money guys upstairs aren’t happy. People in the hospital, most times are there because they aren’t doing what they are told to do by the doctor. Example the CHF person who pounds the salt shaker on everything he eats even before tasting it, then he’s not happy he can’t go to the bar tonight for beers with his buds because he’s stuck in the hospital again and it’s our fault. We didn’t fix it when he was here last week. Oops, it’s been less than 30 days since he was here—We don’t get paid. The money guys upstairs are mad so management is feeling the rath and so the saying goes “poop runs downhill” and more stress on nurses.

  3. I agree with Irene Iyles and Nursecathy. Nurses frequently get the blame for mistakes, financial losses, etc. while the stress continues to increase, the margin of error increases, staffing is fair to poor, patient to nurse ratio is fair to poor, documentation requirements increase, with no increase in time to complete it, and team work unravels. I’ve worked in several states and in various medical settings/facilities for 48 years- it’s always the same: understaffed, overworked nurses, at least one “pot stirring back stabbing nurse” that never is confronted or reprimanded, “10 – 12 hours of work to be completed in 8 hours” or long 10 or 12 hours shifts that have all the same problems as mentioned, and nothing is done to change the real problems. If researchers and the medical directors feel that mindfulness is going to help…then medical employers/directors should provide paid training for this during work hours… and not at the expense of the nurses that are working while the others are taking the classes. Also considering the statement “It allows a person to enter into the present moment by focusing on breathing and the senses, leading to insight and mindful action” – might not work in the fast paced medical environment. I am skeptical. Why not just poll nurses concerning their needs and complaints? Observing some nurses perform in order to have their work done in the allotted time makes me extremely concerned for patients.

  4. Staffing is always an issue and I believe care Could be improved so much if the issue were truly addresed and fixed. Also , though, there has to be an improvement in management’s attitude towards nurses. The constant demands critisism veiled threats of some vague disciplinary action just devistates morale and self esteem among nurses. We second guess ourselves fearing the consequences of taking the initiative. We or I just get tired. Very tired and eventually give up.

  5. Of course a big part of the problem is understaffing. Perhaps the powers that be could realize that nurses cannot work at 110% all the time. Management could take just a little less profit and staff all their patient units with enough nurses to care for each patient adequately.


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