An integrative approach to healing the overworked, weary, or traumatized nurse
If you are among many nurses who feel overworked, weary, traumatized, overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, sad, angry, isolated, lonely, or depressed, this article was written for you. If you feel exhausted, disconnected, fragmented, broken, or dysregulated, you may be experiencing the COVID-19 effect which is described by the International Council of Nurses as complex and mass trauma among nurses. Many of us have been stretched to or beyond our capacity. We don’t want free pizza, a code lavender, or to be hailed as heroes. We want to be seen, heard, and understood. We need compassion, resources, and support. As an integrative nursing professor and educator, I see you. As an empath and sensitive, I feel you. As an integrative nurse coach, I am here with my heart wrapped around yours, to provide support and resources.
The American Nurses Foundation recently reported that nearly half of the 11,000 nurses they surveyed were experiencing resilience challenges. We need to heal ourselves and our profession. By drawing upon integrative nursing principles and the Haelan Effect we can be the healing that we need. Consistent with Florence Nightingale’s perspective, nurse scholars Mary Jo Kreitzer and Mary Koithan define integrative nursing is a whole person-whole system approach to patient care, including the health and wellbeing of the nurse. We, along with our patients and clients, have an innate ability to heal. But what is healing, in its purest form? How can we engage with the healing process with and for ourselves and our profession?
Healing, derived from the Anglo-Saxon root word haelan, means to become whole. The Haelan Effect, first defined by nurse scholar Janet Quinn, describes the personal process of repair and recovery as one moves from dis-ease or dis-connection to a state of wholeness in body-mind-spirit. This is accomplished by positioning oneself in right relationship for healing, internally and externally. We do this all the time for our patients and clients. We can, similarly, heal ourselves. In my integrative nurse coaching practice, I use one actionable formula to evoke the Haelan Effect: A + A + B = C. Let’s unpack this simple formula of Awareness + Alignment + Balance = Connectedness in Body-Mind-Spirit.
Awareness (A). Coming from an internal space of awareness is the first step towards engaging with the Haelan Effect. Many of us react to stress in an unhealthy, habitual manner. Frequently, we perceive ourselves as the stress or situation rather than the person who is experiencing the stress or situation. The awareness perspective, where we detach from the situation and become the observer in body-mind-spirit, is essential. This first step is often overlooked because it requires us to slow down and show up for ourselves with mindful, intentional compassion. It doesn’t matter how you show up for yourself in awareness, it just matters that you show up using whatever modalities are most meaningful to you. Sometimes, my clients push back a little bit on aware mindfulness practices due to faulty preconceived notions that they must “stop thinking” or “do it right”. That is not the goal. The goal is to become aware of oneself in loving detachment. Observe the thoughts that your mind produces like clouds passing in the sky. You wouldn’t ask your heart to stop beating, or your lungs to stop breathing any more than you would ask your mind to stop producing thoughts. Simply allow the thoughts to emerge and pass you by.
You can practice mindful awareness by engaging with traditional stillness practices such as centering and meditation. Some people enjoy generative practices, which include contemplative reading and visualization. For the creative nurse, music, journaling and contemplative arts could inform your awareness practice. There are active awareness practices such as volunteering or movement practices like yoga, Qigong, or walking meditation. Even one conscious breath constitutes an awareness practice. You’re already breathing anyway, so just be aware for a breath or two periodically throughout your day. Create your inner bubble of awareness and show up for yourself every day. You are healing.
Alignment (A). Alignment Is the second step we take to manifest the Haelan Effect. Alignment is nurtured within your inner field of awareness. It is our inner sense of internal connectedness, not disconnectedness, in body-mind-spirt. It is a very, very gentle and compassionate form of self-inquiry where you explore your deepest and most vulnerable truths. Where and how does your body, your mind, and your spirit need you to help yourself – to heal, be reconnected, and experience renewed wholeness? Where are the internal cracks, fractures, and breaks that keep you from feeling whole, healthy, and complete? As those answers emerge, sometimes through tears or inner resistance, it is important to nurture those deep inner wounds and longings. We all yearn to be seen, heard, and understood. Hold yourself in your vulnerable truths as lovingly and as gently as you would a newborn child, puppy, kitten, or other being that you hold dear. Let it be known that you, from your field of awareness, see and love yourself. Be willing to listen to what you, in body-mind-spirit, need most. Be willing to do what is required to heal. As you practice alignment by honoring yourself internally, you’ll start to notice the shift in your external lived experience. This is because you positioned yourself in right relationship within. You are healing.
Balance (B). This is where most people attempt to start their healing, unknowingly bypassing the first two steps (awareness and alignment) of The Haelan Effect. Balance is the easiest step to understand because it considers our external lived experience. Balance includes showing up for yourself with personal responsibility for and a commitment to self-healing. It also includes body and mind wellness, connections and relationships, beliefs, values, and purpose, your surroundings in personal and professional life, financial wellness, and the all-important and frequently sacrificed refreshing, relaxing, and recharging. When we are externally balanced, we move through our day with ease and grace, like riding a bike with a fully inflated and balanced tire. When we are not balanced, we are straining to get through the day because it feels like we’re riding a bicycle with a flat tire. Resist the temptation to skip the first two steps. The Haelan Effect requires us to be in right relationship internally and externally, in aware alignment and balance. You are healing.
Connected in Body-Mind-Spirit (C). As you move through the Haelan Effect steps, you become increasingly whole in body-mind-spirit. Your inner and outer worlds become more harmonious. There is less disconnection and more connection. You positioned yourself to be in right relationship and leveraged your innate capacity to heal. Your healing process began within you. You are manifesting self-healing by practicing the teachings of the Haelan Effect and the integrative reconnection formula
A + A + B = C.
In closing, the COVID-19 Effect is pervasive and rocked the foundation of our individual practices and the nursing profession. The trauma is real, and it has real and devastating effects in our personal and professional lives. As when we travel by air with small children, we must put on our own healing facemask before we attend to those in our care at work and at home. The Haelan Effect and reconnection formula (A + A + B = C) is an actionable self-care plan that is accessible by any nurse, any time. Position yourself to be the healing that you seek.
Author(s): Lorre Laws, PhD, RN
(This story originally appeared in the American Nurse Today.)