I have always considered myself to be a holistic nurse. For more than 30 years in oncology, I have always tried to get to know my patients beyond their diagnosis and treatment. I ask my patients about their families, support systems, careers, values, coping strategies, and cultural beliefs. I often ask my patients how they found out about their cancer, inviting them to share their experience.
But, by discovering a specific modality of holistic nursing, I gained a deeper understanding of the specialty—and how self-care (a core value of holistic nursing) can benefit all nurses.
Delving into Holistic Nursing
Three and a half years ago a colleague mentioned he would be teaching a class to some of the nurses at our hospital on Reiki practice—a practice of energy healing that relies on touch and transfer of energy to promote healing of the mind, body, and spirit. I attended that class and several others. I went on to complete the Reiki Master training and Reiki Master Teacher training.
I also attended a holistic nursing certificate program (offered by The BirchTree Center for Healthcare Transformation), which focused on holistic nursing practice, complementary modalities, and relationship-centered care. It changed my life. I saw improvements in feeling calmer and more relaxed—and I slept better. I realized the role I could play to educate my colleagues about holistic nursing, and specifically about the importance of self-care.
A Way of Being
But, by definition holistic nursing is not about practicing one specific modality, such as Reiki, reflexology, or aromatherapy—it is a way of being. The key tenets for all holistic nurses include: being fully present, mindfulness, establishing a caring relationships with patients, effective communication skills, incorporating each patient's environment and support system into his or her care, assisting patients in achieving harmony in their lives, guiding and supporting patients in their choices related to conventional and complementary care, and—lastly, one tenet that all nurses can benefit from—practicing self-care.
We cannot adequately care for others if we have not properly cared for ourselves. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and our patients to care for ourselves.
Think of how many times we teach caregivers of our cancer patients to take care of themselves. We need to lead by example and do the same for ourselves. Too often nurses neglect themselves, which can result in poor outcomes for themselves and their patients. If we do not take the time to nourish our own body, mind, and spirit, we cannot be fully present for our patients, and compassion fatigue and burnout can set in—a real risk for oncology nurses (OT 3/25/13 Nursing Spotlight).
A Lesson on Self-Care
How can we care for ourselves when we have so much to do—at work and at home? The first step is recognizing that self-care is important, not selfish.
Self-care requires a commitment of time and intentional focus. Think of those things that you can or want to do to nourish your mind, body, and spirit. Make small changes in your diet. Try meditation. Take a yoga class. Walk in the park and appreciate nature. Surround yourself with positive influences. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Join a gym. Garden. Get more sleep. Watch a funny movie. Start a journal. Plan self-care activities for yourself the same way you plan care for your patients.
I make it a point to look at my calendar for the week and note what nights I will go to the gym after work, when I will be able to walk at lunchtime, and when on the weekends I can visit my favorite park, appropriately named “Peace Valley Park.”
I make good food choices—though sometimes convenience and desire win out. I aim to sleep seven to eight hours per night to help nourish my body. I listen to music. I follow a routine to start each morning: after I shut off the alarm and give thanks for the day; I send lovingkindness or prayers to those in need; I visualize my intentions for the day; and then I recite the five Reiki principles:
- Just for today, I will let go of anger;
- Just for today, I will let go of worry;
- Just for today, I will be fully present in all that I do;
- Just for today, I will be kind to all living things; and
- Just for today, I will be filled with gratitude.
Begin by making an action plan and list your goals. Select one thing that you can do to enhance your own self-care. Be realistic but open-minded as you make a commitment to engage in self-care activities.
Later choose something else to focus on. Remember, the purpose of self-care is to nourish your mind, body, and spirit. Put it in your calendar. Make it a date.
Finally, do not neglect stress—an inevitable part of life. While you often cannot change the problems that surround you, you can choose how you react.
Holding on to anger, worry, and resentment hurts in the long run. Negative energies can spread to others at home or at work. And, retained negative energies can even manifest as an illness. Do not underestimate the power of your breath. Take a moment to close your eyes, center yourself, and take some slow, deep breaths, which can be a very effective way to decrease immediate stress.
And try adopting a philosophy of gratitude, rather than the negative “ain't it awful” attitude. Your attitude is your choice.
ThisOncology Timesregular insert series is edited byOTAssistant Editor Sarah DiGiulio
While there are several modalities of holistic nursing—Reiki practice, aromatherapy, or reflexology—it is not modality that defines a holistic nurse. Holistic nurses can practice in any setting—prevention, outreach, clinics, navigation services, inpatient care, peri-operative areas, research, home care, palliative care, hospice, education, and administration.
Holistic nursing is defined, according to the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA), as “all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal.” It is the art and science of caring for the whole person.
The AHNA has defined the following five core values of holistic nursing:
- Holistic philosophy, theories, and ethics;
- Holistic caring process;
- Holistic communication, therapeutic healing environment, and cultural diversity;
- Holistic education and research; and
- Holistic nurse self-reflection and self-care.