Nurses Need Nourishing Too: New Research Shows TM Reduces Compassion Fatigue

I just learned a new term: “compassion fatigue.” This is what nurses, professional caregivers and first responders experience when they’re too tiredtoo sad and too stressed to feel normal compassion for their patients. It’s also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS) and is characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time.

Having watched many nurses in action during my parents’ multiple short hospital stays for stroke and pneumonia, I’ve been amazed at the quality of care and comfort that most hospital staff give every day, 24/7.

I’ve also been amazed by the demands placed on them by a health-care system devoted to fiscal goals of corporations, which pushes doctors, nurses and aides to their limits physically, mentally and emotionally. Seeing the long hours that they work and the sheer volume of patients, the truly miraculous thing is that there are any medical professionals and caregivers left without compassion fatigue.

And indeed, nurses in particular have a higher stress rate than any other healthcare professionals. According to Medscape, high stress in the nursing profession is due to factors such as long hours, shiftwork, lack of control, inadequate structures of communication in healthcare settings, inadequate reward systems, interpersonal conflict and insufficient resources. Worse, the American Nursing Association reports a rise in physical assaults (by patients, patient families or random strangers who wander into the ER), and nonphysical violence such as verbal abuse by medical co-workers.

All this stress on the job not only leads to rapid turnover, absenteeism and burnout, but also can have a devastating effect on a nurse’s quality of life. Depression, sleep problems, and a disproportionately high rate ofillness, stress-related disease, psychiatric admissions, and mortality are associated with the nursing profession.

So nurses need nourishing too. As Amy Ruff, RN BSN, National Director of Transcendental Meditation for Nurses, says, “Nursing is a calling, and it is stressful. A large percentage of nurses leave bedside nursing within their first year. This is devastating for the nurse, the hospital and the patient. Nurses need self-care strategies to handle the stress and fatigue inherent in the profession.”

Today more and more nurses are turning to the Transcendental Meditation technique to lower stress levels and improve the quality of their lives both on and off the job. At Sarasota Memorial Hospital, for instance, a committee led by Jennifer Bonamer, PhD, RN-BC, Nursing Professional Development Specialist at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, was searching for coping strategies for compassion fatigue and nursing burnout when they came across the extensive research on the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. To them, it made sense that this effortless technique could help nurses, since TM has been demonstrated in over 400 peer-reviewed research studies to provide 48 percent reduction in heart attack and stroke, relief from anxiety and depression, and improvements in coping and resilience.

“We know from the literature that healthcare is complex and challenging work, and that nurses who take the time to learn coping strategies are better able to adapt and sustain a career in healthcare,” says Dr.Bonamer. “We’ve also seen evidence suggesting that improving resilience among healthcare providers can diminish the effects of compassion fatigue and ultimately prevent burnout.”

Yet Dr. Bonamer and her team couldn’t help but notice that none of the published studies were specifically about nurses or compassion fatigue. So they decided to launch their own pilot study to find out whether TM could reduce burnout for nurses.

Published last week in theJournal of Professional Development for Nurses, this new study shows the TM technique produced a statistically significant reduction in compassion fatigue and burnout for a group of 27 registered nurses. At the same time, TM was shown to improve resilience, thus highlighting the important role self-care plays for professional development and longevity in nursing.

The results for the subjects’ personal lives are equally impressive. Nurses who participated in the study found that stress was not only dramatically less on the job, but for many, health and family relationships also took a leap forward.

For instance, Monique Kunz, RN, a Clinical Practice Specialist, was transitioning to a nursing leadership position when she started TM. “Despite having those extra stresses with my new responsibilities in leadership, I actually find that I’m less reactive to stress and I’m able to function better. On a more personal note, I’ve been dealing with irritable bowel syndrome for many years, and within the first month of doing TM, my symptoms were gone. Also my creative interests have increased, and I’ve resumed writing poetry. Overall my outlook on life is much happier.”

Gloria Rupert, RN, has been a nurse for 22 years in critical care. In her roles as administrative supervisor, manager and nurse, she sometimes felt like a juggler trying to keep many plates afloat.

Gloria relates that since starting TM, she is more focused and resilient—and able to prioritize and manage disruptions to meet the demands of her job. A persistent, decades-long problem with chronic back pain also disappeared. “I really believe that TM has caused this change in my body because the stress in my life being so much less,” she says.

Finally, Gloria found that her personal relationships have changed dramatically. She says, “I have to attribute all of the changes that my friends, family and coworkers are seeing—and the calm, inner peace that I feel—to TM. Transcendental Meditation will be part of my life, twenty minutes a day, twice a day, every day for the rest of my life.”

Dr. Bonamar says, “This study contributes new knowledge for an innovative strategy to improve resilience and reduce compassion fatigue and burnout among nurses.”

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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