Mindfulness as Self-Care in Oncology Nursing May Also Improve Patient Care


An expert discussed how the benefits of mindfulness in patients with cancer can also be applied to oncology nurses.

Teamwork of people recovery a brain with beautiful flowers and good heart and positive thinking. Concept for wellness of mental health and mindfulness in depression and mental illness: © nateejindakum - stock.adobe.com

Teamwork of people recovery a brain with beautiful flowers and good heart and positive thinking. Concept for wellness of mental health and mindfulness in depression and mental illness: © nateejindakum - stock.adobe.com

Oncology nurses can apply mindfulness techniques when caring for patients as a means to regulate their own emotions, be more present, and foster compassion, an expert said.

Although many studies have focused on the benefits of mindfulness in patients with cancer, it is believed that nurses can also use these approaches to benefit themselves and the care of their patients.

At the Current Perspectives in Oncology Nursing Conference, Christine Vinci, PhD, Associate Member in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior and Scientific Director of the Participant Research, Interventions, and Measurements (PRISM) Core at Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, presented on how oncology nurses can use mindfulness in their daily lives to support self-care.

Vinci also spoke with Oncology Nursing News about the major takeaways from her presentation and how nurses can be more present in an often-hectic environment.

How can oncology nurses use mindfulness in their daily lives to support self-care?

The presentation starts by just talking about what mindfulness is and what it's not. Part of that involves doing a mindfulness practice, so I'll be guiding a mindfulness meditation. Then I'll jump into the science, where I talk a little bit about the general population of mindfulness, and what we know about it. After, I get into what we know for nurses, and then nursing in oncology.

One thing I was really surprised to see is how little research has been done on mindfulness in the oncology space for nurses. There's been tons of research in the general population and in certain populations like patients with cancer, for example. But when it came to oncology nurses, I was really surprised that there hasn't—there's been a few studies, but not as much.

Overall, I'm talking about what we know, and what we don't know. And then getting into how nurses can use mindfulness in their day-to-day life and work. Although there haven't been a lot of studies on oncology nurses, we know a lot about the benefits in the general population. My hope is that some of that can be applied in their day-to-day life. I have a lot of exercises they can try out at work or at home. It's applying what we know in other groups to this group of oncology nurses.

Despite there being a lot of research, why is mindfulness so important for oncology nurses?

I'll speak to what my opinions are on that, mainly because there haven't been a lot of studies on it. But when we think about what mindfulness is at its core, it's really being present in the moment. It is about noticing what's happening for you, so what's happening to you physically, in your mind, what thoughts go through your head, how you feel, and also what's going on around you. And for nurses, they're in a pretty hectic work environment relative to what I do. I sit at my desk most of the time. They're on their feet a lot. They're going from patient room to patient room, there's a lot of shifts in their attention. And they're on the go most of the day. So paying attention fully to what you are doing right now, I think mindfulness has a lot of value in being able to facilitate that. Because if you can practice being fully present, it might allow you to do that a little bit better in a hectic environment, where you're constantly being pulled in a lot of directions.

I also think, though, that for nurses on a day-to-day basis, the emotional tone of their job is going to vary a lot. It's going to be up, it's going to be down, everywhere in between. They interact with all sorts of people, and they have to be present for that. And I think mindfulness can really facilitate that process as well, the emotional component. We know that emotion regulation is a direct benefit of mindfulness and that the more you practice mindfulness, the better you are able to be present when it's really kind of a mess around you. And that, I think, has a lot of value for nurses, emotionally speaking. So that's a resource they could fall back on as well.

Can being more mindful in oncology nursing also play a role in improved patient care?

Yes, a lot of what I said would translate. So if you're able to be more present in your day-to-day, if you're able to notice things, a medication that's being administered, or you're charting, or you've told that person this and then you need to relay the message, like whatever that is, if you're more present, you're probably going to make fewer mistakes, or even the communication of certain things might be more efficient. So perhaps you may be able to do your overall job more efficiently. And that would translate to better patient care. Know that I’m not citing a specific study here, just that theoretically these are the potential benefits of mindfulness based on what we know about other populations.

Another component of mindfulness is compassion, and this nonjudgment/acceptance element to it. This can be applied to yourself, but also for other people. And if you're engaging in mindfulness meditations and practices regularly, that's something that becomes more and more prominent in your life. I would say that nurses probably have a lot of compassion naturally, as they chose the nursing profession. And that's a big part of their job. But it's still likely difficult sometimes to express compassion. Mindfulness has the potential to foster compassion even more so.

Can mindfulness have a positive impact on the burnout nurses often face?

There was a study in the general nursing population that looked at mindfulness and burnout, and it did show that it helps alleviate burnout. The sample may have included some oncology nurses, but it wasn't a study focused only on that population. So that's really good data to show that it probably has some benefit. And you're right, the oncology setting has a lot of burnout, so it's definitely something the research field should spend more time studying.

What advice would you give oncology nurses about mindfulness?

I think what's tough is that a lot of the mindfulness books, interventions, or programs are intense and/or lengthy. And some people might be totally up for that. If so, go for it. That's great. But if you don't, which I think is most people, because we're all short on time, then just pause and be present when you can. So in the presentation, one thing I say is, you can take these little moments to just stop and notice what's happening for you right now. That could be what it feels like to have your feet on the ground or take a breath and notice what that feels like in your body. If you can do that, for example, every time you walk through a doorway, that's great. Or when you're walking from one room to the next, or even just coming into the hospital and leaving. I think one of the hardest things is to remember to do it, so finding ways to remind yourself is important. And then if you’re trying something out for the first time, I strongly recommend evaluating what it does for you. Does it do anything? If it does, do more, or spend more time learning about it. And if it doesn't, then stop doing that and try something else.

Mindfulness is a practice. And that's because you're learning to figure out what's working and what's not. And so, I would say try different things. Start small and see what effect that has on you. And if it's positive, or you like it, or it's working, then go towards that more.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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