Mindfulness in healthcare: Value your own health

Mindfulness HealthcareI have a friend who works as a nurse in a hospital in Sydney. Her job, in its essence, is to make people that are very sick, well again. In theory this means that when an incident occurs she applies a learning and hopes that it works. If her learning doesn’t result in a positive outcome, she applies another approach and waits to see if that result is a positive one.

This is all well and good in a theoretical world, but in reality her job is a lot more complex and the incidences that occur are a lot more complicated. If only nursing was as simple as going from A to B, with the odd diversion to C, we’d all become doctors and nurses. But those of us not in the health care industry know innately how stressful the industry can be – we can thank shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy for that insight.

My friend is in the people caring business, her patients vary, they can be old, young, adorable or rude, but there is one thing they have in common, they are going through something physically and emotionally traumatic. The disease they may be fighting can be life threatening and the road to recovery is not always an easy one. She works with her patients for months and they become familiar, and a lot of times they become friends. Most of them recover and they rejoice together, and her patients continue on with their lives. But some of them sadly, don’t make it. Death is accepted, it’s a normal part of her working life, and she has found peace with what the rest of us would struggle to deal with on occasion in our lives, let alone everyday.

But sometimes the death of a patient is harder than others and she feels overwhelming sadness and confusion and is filled with questions – Why did they have to die? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? When these feelings overcome her, she jumps in action, into survival mode. During her career she made the conscious decision to adopt a mindful-lifestyle, to reduce the mental stress that her job can cause her to carry. She acknowledges the feelings she gets and she accepts them. She celebrates her being, her body and her life.

In Australia, mental stress claims are the highest of all workers’ compensation claims because of the often lengthy periods of absence from work. Social and behavioural health, such as alcohol abuse and sleeping disorders, anxiety, depression, aggression, fatigue and burnout, are all categorized as mental stress claims. The educational sector claims the most compensation each year, followed by the health and community service industries. Within the health and community services industries, most claims are made based on mental stress due to exposure to a traumatic event. These findings don’t surprise me and probably wouldn’t surprise you, the reader.

A recent study at the University of Virginia School of Medicine showed that a mindfulness course decreases burnout and improves well-being among healthcare providers. Over a period of 6 years, they tested 93 healthcare providers, including physicians from multiple specialties, nurses, psychologists, and social workers who practiced in both university and community settings. These people attended a continuing education course based on mindfulness-based stress reduction that met 2.5 hours a week for 8 weeks plus a 7-hour retreat. The results – there was a significant difference in the before and after score of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. Next to that, the mental wellbeing was measured higher at the end of the research trail.

My friend doesn’t talk about her job at parties, simply because it doesn’t make for happy conversation, but she does this job every day. So how is she able to refrain from venting her stress, frustrations, and sadness when she’s around me? It’s become clearer to me while writing this article that she’s onto something, that her conscious approach to having a mindful lifestyle is the key to ensuring longevity in such an emotionally stressful and draining industry.

So for those of you in the healthcare industry who are feeling burnt out or are going through a period of struggle, I leave you with this – How much do you value your own health and wellbeing over others, because surely to be at your most effective, you must help yourselves before you can help others?

Food for thought I think.