If you are following these postings, you may have begun to wonder, ” well how can I, an everyday nurse, take on the enormity of changing myself; I have always been this way, these are engrained patterns, and I don’t know how to change”. I have outlined a few steps here, though the reader is encouraged to also discover their own healing path.
I. Start looking at the basics of your human needs.
Most nurses have some exposure to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the more we learn about psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), the more we know the importance of laying the foundation of good health behaviors in order to achieve “self-actualization” or consciousness evolution; we can also use this model to begin to visualize that as we move toward your own growth, healing, and self-actualization experiences, we can then prepare to support others (ie our patients and our colleagues) to do the same. From a PNI perspective, if the base of the hierarchy is not addressed, we will be in a physiological chronically stressed state, leading to not only feeling bad and functioning poorly, but also toward an inflammation state and a genetic-chromosomal expression that leads to illness and disease.
Many nurses need to start with attending to the basic physiological needs. As research has shown that most nurses get an average of only 6 hours of sleep before any given shift, for many nurses, this will be the way to begin: first, learn to honor your sleep in order to best care for your own PNI and set the stage for consciousness evolution. Additionally, with erratic schedules and nurses’ long 12 hour shifts, diet and exercise habits that are proven to support a strong PNI, personal stress resilience, and consciousness evolution, may be missing and this useful information is never readily available for the people in need.
As one begins to build a strong physiological basis for themselves, they are better prepared to address the safety needs stage of Maslow’s hierarchy: I believe this is of great importance to nurses, because on a daily basis, our safety issues and boundaries are pushed by our patients, patients’ family members, colleagues, and administrators alike. However, if we don not have our own basic physiological needs met, we may not progress toward addressing our safety needs and moving into a space where work group relations can be addressed and managed.
Nurses may choose to work with a wellness counselor, support group, or health-nurse coach to begin to manage and create a healthy lifestyle. We need to recognize that these habits are hard to create, but with continued support, we can create lasting healthy lifestyle behaviors.
II. Look to the Literature: Self-help and self-care tools abound
In the curriculum I have enacted in the RN- BSN program I have developed, it has become clear that nurses need specific tools to undertake the self-care and healing journey. Luckily, one does not have to look far to find these tools. Some recommendations I feel comfortable making to nurses, educators, student nurses , and whole groups of nurses looking to share this work together include:
Cheryl Richardson’s (2012) The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time. In this book, individuals and/ or groups can work together to reflect and create real change in their lives. This particular book walks the reader through affirmations, to creating healing space, and learning to set limits with the “absolute no” process.
Another great work to support nurse’s on their healing journey and consciousness evolution process is Joan Borysenko’s (2012) Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive. In this book, Dr. Borysenko, a pioneer in the research that emerged from Harvard’s Mind Body Institute, shares her own burn out scenarios and a step-by-step reflective process to help readers revive by examining their childhood roots of burnout, personality traits that may predispose us to burnout, and the revival process needed to move beyond burnout.
Creating work groups or informal groups that can share this healing process may be helpful, though certainly one can also work through this process on their own.
For those looking for what I might call a deeper journey toward the state of evolutionary consciousness a text entitled Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening (2008, Ken Wilber et al) may prove to be a challenging and useful endeavor. This book walks one through the lived process of addressing psychological shadow issues, while also focusing on the mind-body-spirit processes needed to support evolutionary consciousness growth.
III. Seek out counseling
As most nurses know, we want to support the healing of others through caring, which is the heart of nursing practice. But if this task becomes one of control and co-dependence, our workplaces may even morph into lateral violence as we reenact the patterns of our dysfunctional family’s and painful childhood experiences. Through work with the right counselor, we may find that we are able to identify these patterns, observe them, heal them, accept them, and detach from them as we create new ways of being. At this juncture, we then create new patterns for coping. Additionally, tools such as EMDR can help one to create new neural pathways of peace and well-being to attend to when life is stressful, rather than continuing to enter into old habits of fight or flight ad the ensuing dysfunctional behaviors that tend to dictate our reactions in unhealthy manners.
IV. Evolve your consciousness: The ancient tools
For many centuries, people have searched for ways to relief their suffering and find ways to grow spiritually and evolve their consciousness. We are only now coming to the point where we can link these endeavors to the PNI response; organizations such as the Harvard’s Benson- Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center and the Center for Neurobiology of Stress, and The Institute of Noetic Sciences have taken the lead in this area.
Working toward mindfulness, using tools such as meditation and yoga help us to evolve our consciousness toward higher states and recognize our unity with others and the universe at large. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in a present way, while remaining non-judgmental and non-evaluative toward both the inner and outer environments. The video below from UCSF’s Osher Center provides a clear background on this process which directly relates to managing stress and evolving.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences around this process of personal consciousness evolution and the power it may have to transform our lives and realize our healing-caring nursing practices.