The practice of meditation is used in many cultures to reduce stress and anxiety and to maintain optimal psychological and spiritual well-being. Meditation has been extensively studied as a treatment for not only improving cardiovascular health, but also anxiety disorders as well. Since burnout and anxiety are common conditions plaguing health care professionals around the world, nurses must understand the healing power that meditation has in assisting them maintain physical, mental, and emotional balance. By learning how to incorporate the complementary practice of meditation and mindfulness into their lives, nurses have the ability to learn advantageous coping skills to handle potentially stressful situations.
The Art of Meditation and Mindfulness
The ancient art of meditation and mindfulness was derived from ancient Buddhist and yoga practices around 1500 BCE. Mindfulness refers to a process that guides individuals in maintaining a mental state characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. The basic premise underlying meditation and mindfulness centers on how experiencing the present moment nonjudgmentally and openly can effectively counter the effects of stressors, because excessive orientation toward the past or future can be related to feelings of depression and anxiety. It is further believed that by teaching nurses to respond to stressful situations more reflectively rather than reflexively, meditation can effectively counter experiential avoidance strategies, which are attempts to alter the intensity or frequency of unwanted internal experiences from the outside realm.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Due to the incredible health benefits that meditation and mindfulness possesses, Kabat-Zinn conceptualized a highly effective and integrative approach for reducing the physical, emotional, and mental consequences of chronic stress and anxiety. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an innovative therapy that blends various elements of different Eastern meditation practices with western psychology. MBSR is a formal eight-week evidence-based program that challenges the patient to cultivate a greater awareness of the unity of the mind and body as well as the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can influence their overall health. During MBSR therapy, the individual learns various coping skills and techniques aimed to reduce the physiological effects of stress, pain, or illness by participating in experiential exploration of stress and distress to develop less emotional reactivity.
Since the mind is known to play an influential role in stress and stress-related disorders, MBSR has been shown to positively affect a range of autonomic physiological processes, such as lowering blood pressure and reducing parasympathetic arousal and emotional reactivity. In addition to mindfulness practices, MBSR also utilizes yoga to help promote wholesome physical activity and prevent unhealthy complications associated with living a sedentary lifestyle.
Due to the many health benefits it possesses, MBSR has been shown to relieve pain and improve psychological well-being across the health care spectrum. Because of this realization, nurses should make a more concerted effort in incorporating mindfulness meditation practices into their daily lives to not only improve their own stress reactivity, but also imbue resiliency to stressful and arduous psychological challenges associated with working in the health care setting.