Holistic nurse shares enlightening view on self-care
Self-reflection and visualization can help nurses find peace, clarity
Marcia Frellick
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Holistic nursing recognizes all mental, emotional, social and physical aspects of life are intertwined and interdependent. Holistic nurses use that connectedness to drive how they care for patients and themselves.
The number of holistic nurses has seen steady growth over the years, as has interest in holistic nursing’s practice to care for the “whole patient.” Membership in the
American Holistic Nurses Association
has increased from 33 in 1981 to 4,500, according to the AHNA. spoke with Carole Ann Drick, PhD, RN, AHN-BC, immediate past president of the AHNA, about techniques nurses can use for practicing holistic care.
Why is self-care so important?
We have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else. If we are not at our best, we cannot give our best. We only think we can push through. Through self-care we learn that it’s not about pushing and resisting. It’s about flowing gently down a stream rather than getting caught up in the eddies on the side.
How does self-care tie into stress relief?
Stress builds up because we have issues we haven’t resolved. They keep recurring, and we feel we can’t do anything about them and we get frustrated. We need to step back into the peace, the calm and the flow. It doesn’t mean we don’t have stressors, but when we practice self-care it puts us in the position to handle whatever is thrown at us. We learn techniques to stop, take a few breaths and then respond. We handle the issue from a clear place.
When we get frustrated, we contract. Instead, we want to be part of expansion and flow. I really think this starts with self-care and self-reflection.
As we move through our day, we have a constant choice of either expanding and moving forward or contracting — slowing down and even becoming immobile. We easily expand and keep moving forward when things are going smoothly. However, when we run into an obstacle we can become frustrated and upset. Rather than find a solution (continue to expand) and get back in the flow, we sit there stuck and eat, watch TV and complain (contract). 
What is self-reflection and what are some techniques?
Self-reflection is simply taking time periodically during the day to ask yourself how your day is going and how you feel inside. Am I tense? Do I need to relax? What do I need to do to change this? Why do I need to be in control of things and have things go my way? It’s important to be brutally honest with yourself. I don’t want an OK day. I want a great, fantastic day. Many people like to journal and free-form write. That’s a very powerful [method of] self-reflection.
Self-reflection and self-care are part of the foundation of holistic nursing. Why is that?
Holism looks at mind, body and spirit. The majority of nurses are holistic to some degree. But among more than 3 million nurses, there are about 4,500 [AHNA members] who are embracing the importance of self-care and self-reflection. It was important to make those practices part of our scope and standards.
What is the biggest challenge for nurses in practicing holism?
Getting so deep into the list of what they have to do that they can’t be truly present. When they go into a patient’s room, they are physically there performing their duties, but they may not be listening. The patient can easily feel that the nurse doesn’t care. Holistic educators know to teach students that you can rush down the hall as fast as you want, but when you get to the door, you need to stop, take two or three breaths and bring yourself into this place. It changes the atmosphere.
What is visualization and how is it practiced?
Our mind is very busy but it can only hold one thought or idea at a time. Visualization is a way of bringing us back to a place of centeredness and peace, and it takes us out of our chattering mind. It could be thinking about a vacation spot or a special chair in your house that, when you’re there, you don’t have a care in the world. Whatever place it is, you can go back there any time you want. Physiologically, it has an immediate effect on our body. Our blood pressure goes down, our respirations go down.
What role does nurturing the spirit play?
At the center of holistic thinking is looking to a force flowing through the body. It could be God or a life force, nature — something greater than you. We nurture it by recognizing it and giving thanks. It’s getting up and giving thanks for a night of sleep or a flexible body, for example. We nurture the spirit by recognizing the serendipity in a day, the magic in things we didn’t expect. It’s like nurturing a child. The more you nurture it and praise it, the stronger the child becomes.
What’s the biggest obstacle standing in the way of nurses practicing self-care?
Our mind is very busy but it can only hold one thought or idea at a time. Visualization is a way of bringing us back to a place of centeredness and peace, and it takes us out of our chattering mind.”
— Carole Ann Drick, RN
The biggest obstacle is thinking we’re not worthy. A nurse may say ‘oh, I value myself,’ but do you value yourself enough to give yourself the time for, and take action toward, self-care?
What are your top 3 most important things nurses can do to get started on self-care?
The three things I find most important are getting good sleep, staying warm and being hydrated. If we don’t tend to those three, we are not putting our bodies in the best place to function.
I adjust my sleep schedule so I have my golden hour in the morning. I do a breathing exercise, meditation, set my goals for the day and do stretching and yoga. It’s really setting me up so I can be in tune and my day will flow. Rather than adding extra time, you can incorporate exercise in your day, such as doing squats every time you pick up something lower than a countertop.
The AHNA has a bimonthly self-care magazine called
that could help nurses get started. The association says the title “comes from the awareness that all moments are in some way the start of another moment.”
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Marcia Frellick is a freelance writer.