The New Nursing: Moving beyond burnout and putting heart and satisfaction back in the profession

The New Nursing Moving beyond burnout and putting heart and satisfaction back in the professionNursing can be a stressful job.  We, as human beings, have two motivating forces. One is to survive, and the other is to make a difference or be fulfilled in some way. I realize some choose nursing merely for survival, looking for job security. However, most of us chose nursing because we care about others and want to make a difference. This is the group of people I am speaking to here. When we cannot make a difference with our patients because too many tasks get in the way, we begin to feel unfulfilled.

When we have an overwhelming number of tasks and pressure, it triggers the stress response. We lose access to the creative, problem-solving parts of the brain. It puts us in survival mode. We are just trying to make it through the day without making a mistake, getting written up, or having to stay hours after our shift to do the paperwork. Is that any frame of mind in which to be a healing influence in the patients we serve?

There were two things that really changed my life. One was learning how to break the stress cycle in the body by activating the relaxation response through biofeedback. You can do this by taking 2 minutes and doing some deep diaphragmatic breathing until the body switches out of fight or flight. You can then gather your thoughts and come up with a plan to deal with the overwhelming workload and pressing issues. As you train your body over time, it will become second nature to go to a more resourceful state to deal with the demands of the job.

The other thing that was extremely valuable was attending a healing touch class and learning what it takes to truly be in a healing relationship. This is valuable with patients, co-workers, spouses, and family members. Susan, my instructor, gave an example of touching a young man on the shoulder and saying, “Right now, in this moment, the only reason I exist in this world is to serve you.” And you could feel she meant it. How many people even take the time to slow down to even be fully present with the person they are talking to? Just imagine for a second someone saying that to you and really meaning it. Amazing, right?

Part of what makes a healing relationship possible is therapeutic presence. Dr Shari Geller defines therapeutic presence as being completely in the moment on all levels—mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual.

Jean Watson, nurse theorist, developed a Caritas Theory. Caritas is Latin and means love for all. She defined this level of presence as most closely aligned with caring consciousness, mindfulness, and transpersonal caring. Watson states, "Transpersonal caring seeks to connect with and embrace the spirit or soul of the other through the processes of caring and healing, and being in authentic relationship, in the moment."1

The next important aspect of this healing relationship is compassionate detachment. Compassionate detachment is the ability to be present with a person while remaining separate from the outcomes of their situation.

In healing touch, the practitioner centers, grounds, and then attunes with the client or patient.

Centering can be defined as the concentration of attention or energy on something. In healing it is often referred to as a state of physical, emotional, and mental balance where you are present and aware, yet detached and being the observer.

Grounding literally means grounding ourselves to the earth. You can ground by walking barefoot on the earth or you can use visualization to see your energy connect deep into the earth. Einstein told us everything is energy and that includes our bodies.  

Ungroundedness makes you feel as if you are getting out of touch with reality. You feel as if you are not your normal self. You could describe it as “being spaced out.” Taken to the extreme, ungroundedness can cause you to exaggerate your problems; your mind and emotions are in overdrive and are particularly hypersensitive. Because you expend a lot of energy unnecessarily and inappropriately, you experience extreme exhaustion.

After centering and grounding, you then attune to the client's energy by being fully present with the person in front of you. It may be beneficial to touch the client or the bed. Attunement is defined as being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being "at one" with another being.

Truly, a few minutes of someone really being present with you and showing that they care is one of the most valuable gifts you can receive. If you can do that for your patients, your level of job satisfaction will skyrocket. When you leave that patient, you then have to disconnect from their energy. If you can master these few basic skills, you can go home feeling fulfilled instead of drained.  


Author: Debra Kahnen, RN, ND, is the CEO of Life Mastery LLC. With over three decades of healthcare experience—as both a nursing leader in the largest not-for-profit health system in Texas and as a naturopath focusing on wellness—her view is radically different. Debra is a renowned expert in stress management and wellness. She helps people improve their health and emotional well-being to allow for more peace, joy, and personal satisfaction. Get a free special short video eCourse, "Take back control of your life NOW!, so you can experience more balance and ease in your life.

Article Resource: 1 Watson, J. (2007). Transpersonal caring relationships and the caring moment defined. Retrieved June 2, 2009 from the World Wide Web:

Article Photo: courtesy of  hin255  / Free Digital Photos


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