First Take Care of Yourself, Then Save the World: Meditation for Nurses

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By Abigail Morrissey Riordan

April 15, 2020



First Take Care of Yourself, Then Save the World

To my fellow Nurses, 

You are working harder than anyone in the world right now, and you are working on behalf of the greater collective. Thank you for your compassion, for your ability to do 15 things at once, for your clinical skills, expertise, and warm heart. Thank you for sacrificing so much from your life to provide care and to advocate for those most in need. I want to thank you for showing up shift after shift. Thank you for being the cornerstone of medicine and now for being the cornerstone of our global fight against COVID-19.

I am here to advocate for you and remind you that your needs are equally as important of the patients and family members that you care for. To encourage you to take good care of yourself because now more than ever we need you to be working at your best. I am here to offer six recommendations and ways you can prioritize your needs during this global pandemic. 

1. Gratitude

Make time for gratitude. Give thanks for all you have. Make your gratitude practice your own. You could practice before you go to bed and state five things you are grateful for out loud, or you could start your day by giving thanks and writing down them in a journal, or in your note app on your phone. Try to incorporate gratitude into your shift and give thanks while you wash your hands/ or sanitize them throughout the day. Practicing gratitude will increase your mindfulness, and practicing mindfulness will increase your gratitude. The two are directly linked.

2. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation 

Mindfulness is being fully present in this moment. Being present in the moment and accepting what it is rather than trying to change or resist. Mindfulness is learning to observe your thoughts, acknowledging them and then letting them go. Seeing your thoughts and emotions like clouds in the sky, you see them and then they pass by. There are many different ways to practice mindfulness.

A Mindfulness practice you could try is taking a walk outside, and completely submerging yourself in the area you are walking through. Take your time to notice each step, engage all of your senses; hear the birds, feel the breeze, smell the grass, taste the spring air and see everything that you pass by. Another way to practice mindfulness is to connect to the breath. Find a comfortable seat, and begin to notice your inhale and exhale. Without judging the breath, just begin to become aware of it. Where do you feel the breath the most? Maybe you feel it in your chest, or maybe you feel it more in the belly. Not trying to change anything, simply become aware. Connecting to the breath is a tool that is always available to you, no matter where you are, your breath is life. 

Meditation is another way to practice mindfulness.

Meditation is concentrating on one point without effort for an extended period of time. Learn to sit in silence with yourself. Different types of meditations will be better for different people. One example of a meditation is Metta Meditation or Loving Kindness meditation.

The meditation has three parts, first, you focus on cultivating feelings of love and kindness for yourself, then for someone you deeply care for and lastly for all of humanity, for all beings.

Find a quiet place and take a comfortable seat. Relax the face, the neck, and shoulders. Let your spine grow long. Silently to yourself say “May I be filled with loving-kindness. May I be well, peaceful and at ease, and be truly happy.”

Now think of someone you love and adore. Picture their image in your mind now. Silently to yourself say to this person… “May you be filled with loving-kindness. May you be well, peaceful and at ease and be truly happy.”

Now imagine your community, country and all of humanity. Visualize the entire human race in your mind. Silently in your mind send love and kindness to all of humanity by stating “May we be filled with loving-kindness. May we be well, peaceful and at ease and be truly happy.”

Feel love and kindness radiating from your heart center. Take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. When you feel ready begin to bring your attention back into the room. 

Different meditations serve different purposes and will be beneficial depending on your needs. Explore the different types of meditations, play around using different apps, study with different teachers and see what works for you! Once you find a style or school you like, stick with it and become an expert! 

3. Movement 

On the days you are at work your body is in constant motion and working hard. When you get home, the thought of moving your body any more can seem daunting, almost laughable. Help your body recover from the strenuous day by stretching for five minutes. You could do simple yoga movements or Tai Chi. Or if you prefer, invest in a small massage tool or roller to help release areas of tightness and increase circulation to muscles that have been overworked. 

On your days off use more vigorous types of exercise to help bring clarity to a busy mind, to flush out toxins from the body, and to increase mood and immunity. You might also find that you crave movement after working an overwhelming shift. Going for a run or doing 30 minutes of cardio may be what your body needs to get the adrenal from the shift out of the body. 

4. Journal 

If you find you are unable to let go of a conversation you had with a family member of a dying patient, or you are playing a scene or repeat in your head, grab a pen a journal and write it down. Start at the top of a new page and set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down the phrase…“I feel…” and then start writing, don’t stop until the timer goes off. Write whatever comes into your mind, even if it doesn’t make perfect sense or sound correct, write it down. This is called stream of consciousness journaling. Journaling can be very therapeutic and is another way to process the events and emotions of the shift. As nurses we are constantly assessing, caring for and looking after others’ needs. Make time to connect to your needs and feelings.

5. Nutrition and Hydration. 

Don’t forget to drink water! Hydrate yourself. Create a new habit, drink water every time you sit down to chart or every time you turn a patient. Link the behavior of drinking water to something you do on your shift to make it second nature. For the love of God don’t go an entire shift without using the bathroom. If you are, you are not well hydrated. When we are dehydrated we are more likely to crave salty food and become lethargic. Staying well hydrated will encourage you to pick nutritious foods. Nutrition is what fuels the body and makes it work. Your body is a temple, treat it as such. Food can prevent or promote disease and infection. The choice is yours. Make your health a priority by focusing on your nutrition and hydration.

6. Create a Morning and Nightime Routine/ Ritual 

Routines act as anchors in times of crisis. During this time of great uncertainty and increased pressure, rituals can help you feel grounded, and create a sense of stability and support. 

To develop a morning ritual think of something that brings you joy or inner peace. Something that you can do for yourself, that you will be able to do every morning before you start your day, or your shift. Pick something that is healing and healthful for you. How do you want to start your morning/day/shift?

You will know best what morning ritual will be most beneficial for you.

Here are some examples though for you to get an idea. 

  • lighting a candle and drinking a cup of hot water, set an intention for the day while watching the candle burn 
  • Read one quote from a book of inspirational quotes and then reflect on it in a notebook
  • Play music and dance
  • Play a guided meditation and rub an essential oil blend on your neck

Once you decide what your morning ritual will be, commit to it and make it a top priority! Your morning ritual is sacred and special. Remember this is something that you are doing for yourself.

How you end your day is just as important as how you start it.

Unwind from your shift and develop a sleep ritual that will help your body get out of your sympathetic nervous system and help it transition into your parasympathetic nervous system. Give yourself time to transition from work to home, from home to sleep. Involve the senses, get rid of harsh, overhead lighting. Use smells and sounds to help elicit a sense of calm and relaxation. Connect to your body and get out of your head through movement or the breath.

Here is one example of a nighttime ritual you could use.

Stop using electronics 2 hours before you go to bed. Turn off your notifications and alarms. Set your electronics outside of the bedroom.

  • Dim the lights, and draw the curtains shut. If you don’t have curtains look into easy DIY blackout curtains or use an eye mask.
  • Make a sleep time playlist of your favorite songs or play calming music
  • Boil water and make a cup of hot tea or hot water.
  • Light a relaxing candle or turn on a diffuser with calming essential oils in your bedroom, so when you get into bed the room smells beautifully 
  • Stretch/roll out on a foam roller
  • Get into bed and read a book
  • Practice a mindfulness technique: breath in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 2 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat. Continue this breath pattern for several cycles of breath.

Whatever your sleep routine becomes, be consistent, perform your ritual every night. Aim to get 8-9 hours of sleep each night. Try your best to keep your sleep routine and times of waking and going to bed consistent. 

These are my recommendations. This is my gift to you, an invitation to make time for yourself and to prioritize your needs. It will not come easy, it will take intention and repetition. The hospital environment and temperament of nurses will lead you to believe you are being selfish. Making time for yourself is not being selfish, this is filling your cup up before you fill someone else’s. Don’t let yourself hit empty. Take care of yourself, take good care of yourself first, and then you can continue on and save the world. 

All my love, 

Abby Morrissey Riordan 

Additional Resources:
Meditation and Mindfulness Apps 
  • Headspace 
  • Insight Timer 
  • Calm 

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