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7 Habits of Highly Resilient Nurses
More than 40 percent of hospital nurses today suffer from the physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion characteristic of burnout. The result of unmanaged stress, burnout accounts for what is often a negative perception among nurses of their work and workplaces. If we as nurses can change our perceptions of our work and work environments, we can change our experiences.
Resilience is the capacity to accurately perceive and respond well to stressful situations. It is demonstrated not only in times of crisis, but every day by showing up and doing our jobs. With the uncertainty, transition, and reorganization associated with health care, resilience is more important than ever if today’s nurse is going to thrive.
The American Psychological Association suggests that several factors help us develop and sustain resilience. They include maintaining good relationships, accepting circumstances that cannot be changed, keeping a long-term perspective, sustaining a hopeful outlook, and visualizing one’s wishes. These factors can be developed and sustained with one critical skill—mindfulness.
Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment. Mindfulness is powerful, because the only place we can think, decide, act, or live is in the present moment. We exercise our mindfulness “muscle” with practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and movement and by cultivating, through intentionally acquired habits, certain qualities.
Below are seven qualities of mindfulness—together with associated habits—that highly resilient nurses practice. Developing these qualities will help you thrive in nursing and every area of your life.
Beginner’s mind is approaching familiar and unfamiliar things in life with a sense of curiosity and the wonder of a child, instead of from the perspective of an adult who, based on expertise and judgment, makes certain assumptions.
Nurses know a lot about a lot, but as soon as we say or think, “I know that,” we aren’t paying attention anymore. Our minds are off someplace else, ruminating on a previous conversation or planning our next one. Practicing beginner’s mind keeps us in the moment, open to all possibilities.
Habit: Approach your next meeting, physician call, intake, or family-care conference as if it were your first, with fresh eyes and open ears. Use an “I don’t know” mindset (even if you think you do know), and notice new possibilities that appear.
Letting go is not giving in or giving up, but releasing the need to control the outcome of a situation. The essence of mindfulness is becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations and then letting them go—again and again and again.
When we let go of the way things used to be—the resentment, disappointment, judgment, impatience, guilt, or worry we are holding onto—we bring ourselves back to the present and make space for something new (maybe better) to come in.
Letting go is always the most popular mindfulness practice I teach, especially with health care providers. All the exposure we have to pain and suffering can invoke a lot of negative feelings, including helplessness, and it’s important to be able to let go.
Habit: Reflect on a thought or feeling—maybe even a person—you are holding onto right now that is not serving you. With each inhalation, say “let” to yourself, and with each exhalation, say “go.” Each time you exhale, visualize the word, image, or person you are letting go of floating farther and farther away.
Compassion is the desire to alleviate suffering by expressing a fundamental loving kindness. More simply, it means to be kind.
Compassion is why we chose nursing, but sometimes, when dealing with a noncompliant chronic patient, an irate physician, or an unrealistic family member, we forget. Compassion begins with kindness to ourselves and is contagious. If you practice kindness to yourself, you are more likely to practice kindness toward others. Others notice, and they, in turn, are more likely to practice kindness to themselves and then toward others as well.
Habit: When you are feeling completely overwhelmed with a thought, feeling, or sensation, take a five-minute compassion break and ask yourself, “What do I need most right now? Lunch? Sleep? A walk outside? Help?” Be kind to yourself by making sure you get it.
Gratitude is seeing and appreciating the blessings of life that surround us all the time. Practicing gratitude is active and starts with the simple decision of choosing what to focus on. What we focus on expands in our field of vision, and when we focus on disappointment, we see lack and limitation. When we choose gratitude, we focus on abundance and opportunities, and we attract more of those assets.
We may think we have to be happy to be grateful. Just the opposite is true. We need to be grateful in order to be happy. We give little thought to so many things we take for granted, such as having a secure job to support ourselves, enjoying good health, and, as nurses, having our expertise and skill sets that make such an incredible difference in how people live and die every day.
Habit: Start and end your shift with three things for which you are grateful. Include yourself, family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else in your life.
Authenticity is being true to your personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures. It is honoring yourself by standing in the truth of who you are, even if others have different expectations and desires for you.
Authenticity allows you to live a more open, honest, and engaged life. Authentic people feel better and are less likely to turn to self-destructive habits for solace. They tend to be purposeful in their choices and are more likely to follow through on achieving their goals. Being authentic is how you truly connect with your work, your relationships, and yourself.
Mike Robbins, author of Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken, says authenticity is important because it liberates us from the pressures of always trying to be something else, always trying to be perfect. This is why truth will set you free.
Habit: Try telling the complete truth for one whole day. When someone asks you a question, consider how you would respond if you were completely honest. You will soon realize how often we stretch or leave out the real truth about how we feel or what we think. Ask yourself right now, “What am I pretending not to know?”
Commitment is being dedicated to do things—persistently, patiently, and maybe playfully—even when you don’t want to. Being committed to something doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it can actually be pleasant, because you are doing what you really believe in.
We cannot live to our fullest potential until we fully commit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a diet, an advanced degree, or five minutes spent engaging in mindfulness practice. When we truly commit to something, we become bigger than our excuses, such as “I don’t have time for this” or “It’s not that important” or “I’ll start tomorrow.”
Habit: Acknowledge your favorite excuse for not keeping commitments to yourself, and replace it with a new mantra, such as: Bring it on! I am worth it! I commit, no matter what!
Trust means embracing faith over fear—not the kind of blind faith where you believe everything you hear and live in denial, but an overall confidence that you ultimately are resilient, resourceful, and totally capable of getting to the other side of the situation.
Nurses have great intuition. We use it all the time in patient care, when we have a gut feeling or hear a little voice telling us something we may not want to hear. You have to be present to listen to your inner voice and then choose to trust it, for your patients and for yourself.
Habit: Practice trusting your inner voice. We are often afraid to say no, fearing we will disappoint someone, be judged, or feel no one else can do it. Saying no to one thing allows you to say yes to something else. Say no to an extra shift, a new project, or a lunch date on your day off if your inner voice is guiding you to say yes to something else.
Resilience in nursing is not an option. We have to stay confident and strong in body, mind, and spirit, and this requires us to practice mindfulness.
Since mindfulness is focusing on one thing at a time, start with one of the habits described above that speaks to you the loudest, and go from there. These seven habits will change your perception because they will change you—you will become highly resilient both as a nurse and in every other aspect of your life. RNL
Author Diane Sieg, RN, CYT, CSP, is a former emergency room nurse turned speaker, author, mindfulness coach, and yoga teacher. The author of STOP Living Life Like an Emergency and other books, she is also the creator of Your Mindful Year.