Cancer care can be enriching, but it can also be very stressful. Often, we, as oncology nurses, develop close, personal relationships with our patients. We genuinely care, which makes us very good at our jobs. Yet, these feelings can cause us to feel overwhelmed, leading to stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue, also called secondary traumatic stress (STS). Daily mindfulness is an effective tool to help prevent and treat these conditions.
What Is Mindfulness?
Is your mind full or are you mindful? What is the difference? Most people have 70,000 or more thoughts a day, with their mind wandering for about half of the day. A straightforward definition of mindfulness is “living in the present” or “living in the moment.” Mindfulness focuses on the present moment without judgment or interpretation instead of your mind being full or busy with things like planning, worrying, or problem-solving.
Ask yourself if your mind is aware of what’s happening, what you’re doing, and how you move through your physical surroundings. If you are experiencing the moment, you are being mindful.
How Can Mindfulness Help?
Although it may sound counterintuitive, you can improve your mental clarity and productivity when you slow down and pay attention. Mindfulness is proven to enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- Physical well-being. Research has shown that mindfulness can improve physical well-being by changing how the body works, like decreasing inflammation and blood pressure. Many studies have proven that mindfulness in patients with cancer lowers pain and improves fatigue and sleep. Mindfulness also helps with stress and mood.
- Emotional well-being. Mindfulness can improve psychological well-being. In a systematic review of 30 studies, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) effectively reduced healthcare professionals’ experiences of anxiety, depression, and stress. In addition, MBSR helps to increase self-compassion.
- Spiritual well-being. As mindfulness increases, you may develop a deeper awareness of everyday life with greater compassion for yourself and your community. In addition, mindfulness meditation can foster a sense of connection and understanding to improve the quality of spiritual well-being.
Incorporating Mindfulness into Daily Life
Oncology nurses are most vulnerable to stress when we do not take care of ourselves. Start by creating your self-nurturing care plan. Although each plan will be unique, adding just 5 mindfulness exercises into your day can help improve your well-being.
No time to slow down at work? Stop and reset with just 3 deep breaths. With every interaction with colleagues or patients, you want to give them your full attention to the current situation. Mindfulness can help you refocus your brain from your last conversation or to-do list to your current situation.
- Start with the basics of taking a few deep abdominal breaths. Practice 4-4-4 breathing: Inhale deeply for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, then exhale for a count of 4. Increasing the oxygen supply to the brain through deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to help calm you.
- Consider a mindfulness course, drop-in groups, or an app (eg, Calm, Ten Percent Happier, Headspace). Explore work-based MBSR. Outpatient oncology nurses who participated in a pilot study of MBSR sessions for 15 minutes before work 2 times per week had physiological signs of less stress. Nurses commented, “It has really made a difference in my day when I do this in the morning,” and “I really need this today.”
Just like any other change, mindfulness meditation takes time and practice. But, in as little as 6-8 weeks of regular mindfulness, it can improve depression, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and stress symptoms. You deserve a healthier you and your patients do, too. Remember try to take some self-care moments daily.
This article is written by a mentee of beyond Oncology’s Writing Mentorship Program. beyond Oncology pairs oncology nurses with writing and publishing experience (mentors) with nurses who want guidance in having their voices heard through online writing (mentees). To learn more about the program, please visit beyond Oncology.