Are you paying attention


I turned 40 this year. I have been working since I was 16. Fulltime since I was 17. That equates to approx. 47,840hrs at work. 37.5hrs a week at work is more time we spend with the people we love. Nearly all humans spend much of their lives at work, and although ideally, this experience should prove satisfactory, this is probably not always the case. Internal conflict is near unavoidable.

It should not be our endeavour to be "Happy", as that seems unrealistic across a lifespan, but indeed, we should strive to be wholeheartedly "content" with our lives and how we live them.

The working environment generates demands upon us: stress, fatigue, prolonged concentration, fear, and occasional boredom. Although a degree of stress may help a given moment remain more focused on resolving a concrete task, chronic and excessive stress has a destructive effect, with negative consequences when it over-whelms an individual's capacity to cope, not only with work but more broadly, with life.

I always point out that I could not work in an office. I am a nurse. I love nursing. Every day we head into the "office", our hospitals, clinics etc, we have no idea what we are walking into. The great upsides are that we work with knowledgeable, inspiring team members, we are constantly challenged to improve and learn and we provide frontline help for the community.

The payoff is that we put people into body bags. We tell mothers that their son has died. We take people to the toilet when they cannot walk. We get spat at, and we get punched, we work with radiation, work night shifts, and lately have been the frontline staff against COVID, even though we did not choose to be. Next to our medical colleagues and the entire multidisciplinary teams from physio and radiographers, to cleaners and the CEO, we are not alone.

I lived in London for 8yrs and worked in the large London ICU's, where we are now seeing a 200-300% capacity increase due to COVID. I cannot describe how sad I feel for my colleagues around the world being thrust into the fire of this blazing global pandemic, with little choices put before them.

One of the most challenging concepts to describe is how stress evolves to anxiety, fear and a cycle of low mood and depression. Imagine, going to work and thinking that, at work, you could potentially get a virus, bring it home, and it could kill your family. This is an easy explanation as to how stress can evolve to anxiety. This is real, and it has been going on now for nearly 12 months. Nurses are still scared; they are anxious, and they are already fatigued, but they have a whole career to get through. How do they feel? What are they thinking?

"Thinking is the substance of every social relationship and cultural institution we have. It is also the foundation of science. But our habitual identification with the flow of thought — that is, our failure to recognize thoughts as thoughts, as transient appearances in consciousness — is a primary source of human suffering and confusion." Sam Harris 

What do we do? How do we proceed?

To tackle workplace stress, anxiety and fear, we have a few tools in our arsenal to help. Sam Harris, the renowned neuroscientist, leads the global charge with Mindfulness through his "Waking Up" App. If you have not heard of it, please look it up. The power of meditation is untapped. Meditation has generally been tainted with this Eastern culture appropriation and that "Hippies" may mediate but it is all fluffy weirdness. The truth is that the scientific theory denotes that Mindfulness as an approach to managing attention and wellness, is a clear winner.

Mindfulness originally comes from the Pali word sati, which means having awareness, attention, and remembering (Bodhi, 2000). The term "Mindfulness" has been used to refer to a psychological state of awareness, a practice that promotes this awareness, a mode of processing information, and a characterological trait (Brown et al., 2007; Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2005; Kostanski & Hassed, 2008; Siegel, 2007b).

The benefits of Mindfulness include:

  • Emotional regulation
  • Decreased reactivity
  • Interpersonal benefits/relationship values
  • Increased response flexibility

Walsh and Shapiro, 2006, talk about how we can enhance Mindfulness. Build a family of self-regulation practices focusing on training attention and awareness to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration.

That sounds great, but what about nurses?

Where do nurses carve out the ability, intrinsic motivation and time to get this done? Are employers helping? I cannot see that. Should they be? Considering an immediate knock-on effect of burnout, stress and fear are increased sick leave, an innovative policy built around Mindfulness seems like logical good sense. Not creating a social event once a month but truly integrating thoughtful, caring approach to nurture staff and build a construct of cohesion and growth, not just around work but for life.

To better understand barriers and opportunities for mindfulness implementation, we acutely need to be aware that Mindfulness programs are "complex interventions," which require innovative approaches and delivery models to implement these interventions in a cost-effective and accessible way.

Not only do I work as a nurse, but I also work with Virtual Reality. VR is a fascinating, new immerging tool within Healthcare. Can VR help with Mindfulness and Nursing and our multidisciplinary colleagues? Although I am an Evangelist for VR use, I honestly believe it can help here. I have seen it. Applications such as aTOne is leading the charge. They provide a space for time to be protected, promote calm, and reassurance to stop and "pay attention" to our thoughts and reflect on our lives. When talking around these topics, it is important to highlight that I live within these concepts, I am not just talking about to them.

Collectively I just want to say KUDOS to everyone working, helping during this pandemic. You are valued and appreciated. I am paying attention to you.

"Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of This Moment." - Rumi


By Bradley Chesham - Bundle of Rays