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Nurses and Self-Compassion - Not often a thing

APPARENTLY (insert sarcastic and singsong tone), it's important to be self-compassionate in daily life. That means to know when you’re under stress or struggling and to respond with care, support, and kindness. To be supportive and kind TO MYSELF? What's that?

APPARENTLY, the simplest approach is to discover how you already care for yourself, and then remind yourself to do those things when your life becomes difficult. OK.?... sure. Full disclosure, self-compassion- not a thing that I practice.

Until now.

I became aware of this discrepancy when I was healing from covid and PTSD. My therapist often reminded me to "be kinder" to myself (🙄LOTS of eye rolling happened when she said this). I learned that my inner critic, and the beatdown it was delivering, did not actually motivate me, it was hindering my healing.

I am currently involved with a course that I deemed necessary for my continued growth and development, Self-Compassion Training for Healthcare Communities (SCHC). SCHC is a 6-hr evidence-based healthcare adaptation of Mindful Self-Compassion, the empirically supported program of Dr. Kristin Neff at UT Austin and Dr. Chris Germer at Harvard Medical School. The reviews of literature regarding self compassion indicate "enhancing focus on developing self-compassion using mindfulness interventions for health care workers holds promise for reducing perceived stress and increasing effectiveness of clinical care".

WOW-- Nurses need this, NOW!!

Research on Self-Compassion and Wellbeing

  • Research indicates that self-compassion is powerfully linked to wellbeing:

  • Self-compassion is strongly associated with fewer negative states like depression, anxiety, stress, shame (Johnson & O’Brien, 2013; Zessin, Dickhauser & Garbade, 2015), and negative body image (Albertson, Dill-Shackleford & Neff, 2014).

  • At the same time, self-compassion is strongly linked to more positive states like happiness, life satisfaction, and optimism (Neff, Rude & Kirkpatrick, 2007). It’s also linked to better physical health (Friis et al., 2015; Hall et al., 2013).

  • Research with health-care professionals indicates that self-compassion is linked to greater satisfaction with one's caregiving role (Raab, 2014).

So far the work has been fascinating and eye-opening.

When asked to deliver compassion to ANOTHER PERSON who is suffering in a situation, mindfully, we noted the words we used to show compassion in that moment.

I see this is upsetting to you.

I'm sorry you're hurting

My tone is soft

My body is attentive, I am present.

My heart is open and curious

Then, when asked to deliver compassion to OURSELVES while suffering in a situation, mindfully, we noted the words we used to show compassion in that moment.

How are you going to get out of this?

When? How? This is awful.

My tone is harsh and short

I am comparing this to past and future issues or solutions

My heart is not engaged, I'm in my head.

Not to speak generally, but after being around so many nurses for over 25+years in Nursing, we tend to give our most compassionate self to others. We assume that self compassion is not as motivating as self doubt or criticism. Anyway, Nurse, Mom/Dad, Wife/Husband, Daughter/Son, Housekeeper, Uber, Accountant.... she/he does NOT have time to pause and practice self compassion.

On the contrary, self-compassion promotes a positive mindset, leading to increased resiliency, which in turn allows people to thrive, perform at a high level, and have a happy and healthy outlook at work (and home). One reason: self-compassion reduces cortisol levels, a hormone largely responsible for stress. Lower levels of it can be a very good thing, my Nurse friends.

From the training we learned there are 3 essential components of self-compassion:

1. Mindfulness vs. Denial or over-identification - We bring awareness to ourselves to know when we are under stress or suffering.

2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation - We recognize everyone suffers, we are not alone, that imperfection is part of being human, this is normal.

3. Self Kindness vs. Self Judgment - We invite kindness and support to ourselves just as we would to a loved one. This may include more Yang qualities of self-compassion like protection, providing, and motivation.

So now what???

Get to work on your self-compassion with the "The Self-Compassion Break':

1. Pause, take a deep breath, recognize and vocalize that you are in a moment of failure/struggle and failure/struggle is simply a part of work.

2. Next, puts both hands over your heart, feeling your heartbeat and rhythmic rising and falling of the chest from breathing, and repeat: “May I be kind to myself and may I live with ease.”

Don’t be bashful—it works. Give it a try, and help yourself and others.

For further exploration, take a look at Dr. Neff’s work. Some really wonderful resources can be found on her site, and her research is bedrock solid.



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