When the Nurse Practitioner Stress Mounts…

This weekend I went on a getaway with a professional group I am affiliated with. While our weekend had a strict agenda, the theme for the weekend lent itself well to coming home refreshed and rejuvenated. I have to admit, I was initially skeptical of our discussion topic, mindfulness. The whole thing sounded a bit wishy washy to me. But, as I listened to the first expert present on the subject at our mini conference, I became intrigued. Maybe there was more to this whole mindfulness and meditation thing than I had thought.

Major companies across the country have embraced the mindfulness craze. Employers like Google, Target, and General Mills are all investing time and dollars into helping workers focus and decrease stress through measures like meditation and yoga. Celebs are also embracing the phenomenon. Gwenyth Paltrow, for example, has praised the practice. But, does it really work?

As nurse practitioners, we are stressed to the max. Recently, for example, I have been going through the credentialing process required to begin employment at an additional hospital, had several lengthy family obligations to attend (don’t worry, I enjoyed seeing you, mom!), and, well, have been working like crazy. Sprinkle in a social outing and normal day to day responsibilities in here and there, and you’ve got a recipe for feeling overwhelmed. I know I’m not alone out there.

We as NPs have tough jobs. We must be ‘on’ at all times. We interact with thousands of patients each year. If we don’t do our jobs well, we put others’ health and safety in jeopardy. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. The stakes are high in our role as nurse practitioners, and the risk of burnout if we don’t approach our lives with intentionality is real. That’s where mindfulness comes in.

Essentially, mindfulness means taking five. Psychology Today describes the practice as “a state of active, open attention to the present…you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them, good or bad.” Mindfulness allows you to think, but not react. It allows you to take a few minutes away from your emotions, to relax and unwind. You may accomplish this by closing your eyes, deep breathing, lying down, exercising, sitting in a quiet place, gentle yoga – you name it. Essentially, mindfulness gives your brain permission to check out every once in a while.

I have to say, that, while skeptical, taking some time out for a relaxed yoga session on Saturday, along with participating in a guided mindfulness session, showed me that taking just five or ten minutes out of my day is enough to really help me relax and rejuvenate when the stress of life as a nurse practitioner begins to mount. I don’t expect the practice to make a drastic change in my life (and, science says it won’t), but, I do think mindfulness has some cred as an effective technique for reducing in the moment stress and anxiety. So, get out your stress ball, or close your eyes, cross your legs, rest your hands on your knees, and take a five minute deep breathing break the next time you feel overwhelmed.

Not sure how to get started? I’m also told that the app Headspace can help.

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