Reduce Nurse Burnout With Mindfulness and Meditation

By Sallie Jimenez for Nurse.com

If you’re a nurse who is experiencing physical, emotional, and mental fatigue from the stresses of your job, you’re not alone. According to Nurse.com’s 2024 Nurse Salary and Work-Life Report, 59% of nurses said they experienced burnout in the past two years, and 54% said they experienced prolonged stress.

The good news is meditation and mindfulness can offer powerful tools to combat burnout. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus, and overall mental and physical well-being. Meditation can also decrease stress by improving sleep, reducing anxiety and depression, and increasing self-compassion. 

Understanding nurse burnout

While nurse burnout is common, it isn’t inevitable. Working long hours, caring for sick and vulnerable patients, not receiving support, and neglecting self-care can all lead to a state of chronic stress. 

By recognizing the early signs of nurse burnout, identifying the source of your stress, and prioritizing your physical and mental health, you can practice strategies to avoid burnout.

Mindfulness involves paying attention in the present moment to your thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and environment. The practice helps nurses avoid burnout by quieting the mind, while reducing stress and increasing focus.

If you’re unsure how to get started, there’s a wealth of resources that can help you master mindfulness, breathing methods, and other strategies.

While the terms “mindfulness” and “meditation” are often used together, mindfulness can be practiced without meditation, or they can be practiced together and serve to complement each other.

Practical tips for incorporating meditation and mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that even the busiest nurses can incorporate into their day. The site, mindful.org, for instance, offers several daily mindfulness practices that can be done in a matter of minutes.

One of the techniques is the STOP practice, also called the doorknob practice in medicine. This is a technique you can use to ground yourself as stressful moments arise during the day. On the mindful.org website, Mark Bertin, MD, a pediatrician, mindfulness teacher, and author from Pleasantville, New York, recommends completing the following steps the next time you enter a patient’s room or a meeting:

S: Stop what you’re doing.
T: Take a few breaths.
O: Observe and check in with what’s going on around you.
P: Pick how to proceed with intention. Ask yourself, “What’s the most skillful thing to be doing next?”

If you don’t have a lot of time to practice mindfulness or meditation, that’s ok. Begin with short, manageable sessions. Even five minutes can make a difference. Gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable.

  1. Mindful breathing: Practice mindful breathing exercises. Focus on your breath, observing the inhale and exhale without trying to change it. This can be done during breaks or even while performing tasks at the nurses’ station.
  2. Guided meditations: Utilize smartphone apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Smiling Mind, or YouTube videos offering guided meditations tailored specifically for nurses and other healthcare workers who want to manage stress relief and promote relaxation. 
  3. Mindful moments: Incorporate mindfulness into daily activities. Pay full attention to what you’re doing, whether it’s washing your hands, charting, or interacting with a patient.
  4. Create a meditation space: If possible, designate a quiet corner at home or work where you can meditate without interruptions. A calming environment can enhance the effectiveness of your practice.
  5. Join a group: Practicing with others can provide motivation and support. Look for local or online meditation groups or classes.
  6. Scheduled practice: Set a specific time each day for meditation and mindfulness. Consistency is key to experiencing the full benefits.
  7. Use reminders: Set reminders on your phone to prompt mindful moments throughout the day. These can be brief pauses to check in with yourself and your surroundings.

What’s stopping you?

Incorporating meditation and mindfulness into a busy nursing schedule can be challenging. Here are strategies for making it a regular part of your day:

  • Micro-meditations: Practice mindfulness in short bursts. Even a minute of deep breathing can be beneficial.
  • Mindful walking: Turn your walks into mindful practices. Focus on the sensation of your steps, the air on your skin, and the sounds around you, even as you walk around your unit.
  • Integrate it into your routine: Blend mindfulness with routine activities. For instance, practice mindful listening when talking to patients or colleagues.
  • Advocate for breaks: Ensure you take regular breaks during your shifts. Use this time to step away from the stressful environment and practice mindfulness.

In a profession where so much is asked of you, taking time — even a few minutes per day — to look after your physical, mental, and emotional health is paramount. Mindfulness and meditation can help in that regard by combating nurse burnout, keeping you balanced, and maintaining your passion for patient care.

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