An Antidote to Nursing Stress: The Transcendental Meditation Technique

I am one of those people who knew by age five that I wanted to be a nurse. My idol was my aunt — a 1950s registered nurse, looking crisp and competent in her white uniform, going off to work in a large, brick, city hospital. She was confident and caring, and I knew that the people she touched would heal.

In those moments, the nursing profession was fascinating and exciting to me, and the excitement continued through my nursing program and into my first position in an Intensive Care Unit after graduation. I chose the challenge of ICU because I wanted to make a difference in life and death situations. My learning curve went off the charts as each day brought new experiences and knowledge.

As time went by and I assumed more responsibility, I noticed I was tense upon awakening to go to work. I had pain in my abdomen during shift report and I was often terrified that I would make a mistake. I still loved the knowledge and stimulation that each day brought, but I noticed increasingly uncomfortable physical changes, sleep difficulties, and I was adopting unhealthy habits to deal with the stress. I became exhausted.

Walking through our local library one day, I noticed a poster for a presentation on the Transcendental Meditation® technique and decided to attend with a friend. The speaker discussed how one could get relief from stress and fatigue and that life did not have to be a struggle. The next weekend I was at the local Transcendental Meditation center being instructed in this effortless, simple, profound technique. The first meditation brought waves of pleasure and deep relaxation, yet I remained fully awake and aware of noise and the activity outside of the room.

That was 40 years ago, and I still practice the Transcendental Meditation (TM®) technique twice a day, every day. And each day I find myself to be living proof of the benefits that were outlined in the TM introductory presentation— stress, fatigue, struggle, exhaustion and imbalanced health are no longer features of my life.

Everyone is aware that the nursing profession is experiencing a shortage. While there are many factors that are influencing this shortage, the bottom line is that nurses are working longer hours under stressful conditions with fewer staff.

In a study by Dr. Buerhaus and colleagues, published in the March- April 2005 issue of Nursing Economics, it was found that more than seventy-five percent of RNs believe the nursing shortage creates a major problem for the quality of their work life and the quality of patient care. Looking forward, almost all surveyed nurses (98 percent) see the shortage as a catalyst for increasing stress on nurses and for causing nurses to leave the profession (93 percent).

Whatever the cause, it is estimated that 40 percent of hospital nurses experience burnout. Burnout is not something that happens overnight. Competent, caring individuals experience burnout as a result of long hours under stressful conditions, frustration, lack of autonomy, and communication difficulties between staff and administration. Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion and depersonalization—having an unfeeling or impersonal response towards patients and coworkers. Patients and their families, as well as the nurse, pay a heavy toll. Burnout leads to depression, injury, job dissatisfaction and medical errors*.

The stress and anxiety inherent in the nursing profession places the professional nurse at high risk for burnout, not to mention personal health issues such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiac disease. The Transcendental Meditation technique is easy to learn and enjoyable to practice. To date, there have been over 360 peer reviewed scientific research studies published in leading journals showing a broad range of physiological, psychological, and sociological benefits.

A report from the American Heart Association (AHA) published on April 22, 2013, concluded that the Transcendental Meditation technique lowers high blood pressure and may be considered in clinical practice for the prevention and treatment of hypertension for all individuals with blood pressure levels >120/80 mm Hg.

The TM technique is practiced for 20 minutes twice daily while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. The mind effortlessly settles down to quieter levels of thought — a state of inner coherence and calm. The body correspondingly settles down to a state of deep rest. One feels profound physical relaxation and yet the mind remains restfully alert. This experience of inner fullness is the basis of great vitality and achievement in life, with benefits including reduced stress, increased energy and stamina, decreased anxiety and depression, and improved focus, communication and leadership skills.

I still feel the excitement about the nursing profession that I first experienced 40 years ago. I have loved every job and position that I have held as a nurse. Nursing has taught me many profound life lessons. The Transcendental Meditation technique proved to be an essential tool in my career, enabling me to experience and enjoy this great profession without the cost of physical and emotional burnout.

About the Author

Amy Ruff, RN BSN, is the national director of TM for Nurses in the United States.

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