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At any given moment working nurses are pulled in numerous directions, as multitasking is the currency of the occupation. In many instances, nurses are caring for high acuity patients on units with inadequate nurse staffing. Nurses are trained in principles of documentation, the six to eight “Rights” of medication administration, and round regularly on their patients to maintain safety. 

Distraction can still wreak havoc on a shift if a nurse is not focused carefully on the immediate task at hand. A 2013 study revealed that “42% of healthcare-related life-threatening events and 28% of medication adverse reactions are preventable.” So how can nurses bring their full attention to what they are immediately concerned with?

Mindfulness Can Help

By embracing the practice of mindfulness. It’s a term that’s mentioned often in relation to relaxation and meditation these days, but it can be helpful during working hours as well as after hours. To be mindful, according to Merriam-Webster, one is “bearing in mind,” “aware,” or “inclined to be aware.” PsychologyToday.com states that mindfulness “is a state of active, open attention to the present.” Essentially, being mindful is being fully present and attentive to what is happening in the present.

Mindful over Multitasking

Nurses can incorporate mindfulness into their everyday practice by making the effort to bring their focus to the present whenever they are interacting with patients, which will improve work performance. Save any multitasking for times not spent working directly with patients. Before entering a patient’s room, pause briefly and take a breath. Bring the focus to the specific details of the patient’s case and keep it there as long as the interaction lasts. Actively listen when they speak.

Try this applied exercise in mindfulness:

  • Before entering a patient’s room, scan your body for tension – look for tension in common places such as the jaw or shoulders and relax those areas.
  • Be aware of feeling rushed or anxious, and acknowledge these feelings without trying to eliminate them.
  • Take a couple of mindful breaths, dissolving your tension and busyness on the exhale.
  • As you prepare to meet your patient, adjust your mindset to be fully present.
  • Knock on the door and make eye contact as you enter the room.
  • Introduce yourself and make a personal connection.
  • Chat with your patient for a few moments before moving on to your assessment or reaching for your computer.
  • Whenever you notice your focus has wandered, gently redirect back to your patient and the task at hand.

Reduce Stress

Incorporating mindfulness into everyday practice can reduce reactivity to stress. By being more mindfully deliberate, nurses can implement their daily plans with less distraction. Adopting the mindful approach is considered much healthier than multitasking. And paying full attention to patients can only improve assessment skills.

Adopting the practice of being mindful and returning the mind to the present whenever the focus strays can help keep nurses on task with less stress and more efficiency. A mindful nurse is far less likely to make mistakes. And that’s something from which everyone benefits.

Elizabeth Binsfield, BA, RN

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