You have likely heard a lot of people talking about mindfulness. It’s been popular the past few years — and you might be surprised at the people singing its praises. From Clint Eastwood to Lady Gaga, it seems like everyone is practicing mindfulness.

Intrigued? Here’s an introduction to mindfulness, just for travel nurses.

So what IS mindfulness?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. In its simplest form, mindfulness is becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings without making judgments about them. It’s also about slowing down, breathing, and getting in touch with physical sensations. It’s something you can do as you walk down the hall between patients, drive, or shower. You can even try it out while standing in line.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a famous professor of medicine, developed modern mindfulness practices as a way to help people lessen chronic pain. Kabat-Kinn defines mindfulness as “moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness.”

Why it’s helpful

Before we plunge into the hows of mindfulness, let’s explore the whys. Tons of studies explore the benefits of practicing mindfulness, many of which are particularly helpful to nurses. Mindfulness:

What’s more, a 2014 study of healthcare professionals found positive results among those who completed a meditation course. Participants in the study noticed:

  • Increased acceptance and understanding of their patients
  • Greater efficiency
  • Improved ability to handle stressful situations

So, there’s a lot to gain from incorporating mindfulness into your travel nursing career. Let’s talk about how.

Getting started

Like many new habits, the biggest hurdle to developing a mindfulness practice often is committing — and remembering — to do it.

Research suggests it takes 21 days to develop a new behavior. Determine a time of day for your mindfulness practice and try your best to stick to it. Consider using an alarm on your phone. You may see the most benefits to begin practicing before your shift starts.

Don’t be afraid you’re not creating the perfect circumstances to “do” your mindfulness work. There’s really no way to “mess up” paying attention to the present moment. Find a quiet place during a shift break. You might even go to your car, where you know you won’t be interrupted.  

As you advance, consider finding a touchstone in your daily routine that can serve as a reminder to be present. For example, challenge yourself to focus on being present every time enter a patient’s room or come back from a break.

Breathe

A very simple way to approach mindfulness is to focus on breathing. That doesn’t mean you have to breathe in any “correct” way. Just notice the sensations as you breathe in and out. Does it feel tight? Loose? Where do you feel it? Deep in your abdomen, or high in your chest?

By focusing on your breath, you can get in tune with your body. If it helps, you can also count while you breathe. Counting can help anchor your mind, especially if it feels too busy.

Observe your thoughts and feelings — without judgment

Mindfulness is often connected to observing our typical day-to-day thinking. The idea is to work with your thoughts and feelings instead of working against them. For example, take a typical thought scenario:

  • You feel irritated by a fellow nurse’s mistake
  • You blame yourself for not stepping in to fix it
  • You’re annoyed that you’re wasting time thinking about something that’s over
  • You feel even angrier at the nurse for causing your stress
  • You feel guilty for being overly critical

Instead of this unpleasant loop, mindfulness asks you to let yourself feel your initial emotion — irritation — fully. Give it permission to pass through your emotional landscape on its own schedule, like a cloud passing through a blue sky.

To allow difficult or painful thoughts to pass, it may be helpful to use a visualization technique. Imagine the unpleasant thought or feeling is a leaf that drops into a river and floats downstream. The leaf will draft and swirl and ultimately pass out of sight. Remind yourself that everything is temporary.

Try out an app

If you want a little guidance to get you started, try an app. Many of them have been developed by experts in the field and are wildly popular.

  • Insight Timer, which provides over 10,000 guided meditations, calming music tracks, and mindfulness talks by prominent mindfulness teachers. You can search meditations by your interests, by the length of time you have to be mindful, or by what you’d like to focus on. You can also purchase mindfulness courses.
  • Headspace focuses on guided meditations and offers 10 free meditations before requiring a monthly subscription. The meditations are different lengths, including 3- and 5-minute-long “minis” you can do on the fly. Longer, 10-minute meditations are grouped into “packs” focused around specific topics like Creativity, Productivity, and Change. You’ll do them in increments over a couple of weeks.
  • Calm is similar to Headspace, but adds nature sounds and beautiful images to engage your sensory experience. It’s also designed to aid sleep. A subscription is required after several free meditations.

Join a class

If you’re really eager to commit to mindfulness, signing up for a course is the best way to go.

  • Coursera offers an introductory course with information on the philosophical and psychology of the practice. Meditation Labs help you get your feet wet.
  • Palouse Mindfulness, modeled after the Jon Kabat-Zinn’s successful 8-week course, introduces the basics of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Explore new practices

Once you’ve nailed down the basic principles of mindfulness, it’s time to explore! Stretch your skills and try out body scanning, yoga, mindful eating, or the more traditional meditation practices, like Zen or transcendental meditation. There’s a bounty of resources out there to help.

Remember, though: you’ve got everything you need right now. Mindfulness can be as simple and beautiful as stopping to smell an orange at the grocery store!

Looking for more self-care tips? Check out our 23 self-care ideas for travel nurses this summer!