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Coming back to wellness

By: Julie Cullen

By Julie Cullen, Managing Editor, American Nurse Today

Our ongoing series on nurse wellness has coincided with my own journey of wellness. For a year I’ve been meditating every morning for about 20 minutes (okay, not every morning, but most). I participated in a 6-week mindfulness-based stress reduction class. And I attended a 1-day silent retreat at a Buddhist retreat center. At the same time, I’ve been trying to get my blood pressure under control with medication, diet, and exercise.

My wellness journey began with the discovery of my hypertension. It felt like one of those great big flashing arrows you see on highways when all cars need to move over because of an accident ahead. I needed to move over…out of the traffic going 80 miles per hour and into a slow steady flow.

Last week I attended my second silent retreat. This time for 3 days. Twenty other people also attended; all strangers to me. We spent several hours a day listening to talks from a Dharma teacher and participating in 30-minute sitting meditations. But the meditation moved outside of the meditation hall and into everything we did. Walking, eating, and working. The goal was to pay attention. To really focus on what we were doing. How our feet moved and felt as we walked from place to place. The motion of our hands as we wiped down a table in the food hall. The smells, texture, and flavor of our food.

At the end of the last day of the retreat, we gathered in the reception hall for tea and cookies. This was our first opportunity to speak with each other. I thought we might be hesitant to talk, but instead we were excited to greet each other and share the experience. One of the first people I spoke to was a nurse (it’s like you nurses follow me around now that I’m editing this journal). I’ll call her Allison. She told me that she and other nurses at her hospital have been talking for a while about how they want to incorporate a sense of mindfulness into their work and personal lives. She also told me how stressful nursing can be and that she and many of her colleagues struggle with health issues that she knows are related to that stress. Allison very emphatically said, “I want to keep being a nurse for a lot of years to come, but that won’t be possible if I don’t start taking care of myself.”

Throughout the Dharma talks, our teacher repeated the idea of “coming back.” Not coming back to the retreat center, but coming back to our breath, our work, our food…the present. It’s natural for our minds to wander to the past and the future, but when you notice the wandering, stop for a second and redirect yourself back to what you’re doing. Allison talked about how she often wasn’t paying attention to the patient in front of her, but rather thinking about the next patient, her kids at home, or a meeting she needed to attend. “That patient right in front of me deserves my full attention,” she said. “And I know I benefit, too, when I focus in on what I’m doing and who I’m interacting with. My anxiety level really decreases.”

I’ve found that to be true, too. In fact, my blood pressure was excellent at my last provider visit. I don’t attribute that to just one thing, but to everything I’ve been doing. Your wellness depends on paying attention (coming back) to your mind, body, and spirit.

Julie Cullen, managing editor of American Nurse Today and a curator of online content for the American Nurse Today website, is most definitely not a nurse, but she admires what all of you do everyday. In her Off the Charts blog she shares some of her experiences as a patient and family member of patients, thoughts and ideas that occur to her during her work editing nursing content, and information she thinks you might find interesting. Julie welcomes your feedback. You can submit a comment on the website or email her at jcullen@healthcommedia.com.

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