Nurturing ourselves allows us to better heal our patients. Practicing mindful habits, like deep breathing, is one way we can engage in self-care.
I was immediately aware that my patient was testing me. As they shared their story, my every blink and breath was evaluated for trust, compassion, and judgement. Time stood still between us.
I’d learned the skill of compassionate neutrality decades earlier as a young trauma nurse in the Regional Burn Unit of Baltimore City Hospital (now known as Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center). The horrors of life were physical. I will carry the awful sights and smells with me forever.
I was now being asked as a clinical psychologist to witness another horror. Could I bring the same level of compassion here, with someone who was incarcerated and had grown up amidst constant terror, surviving the only way they had learned? How would I manage this level of vicarious trauma?
Compassion means “to suffer with.” It’s what healthcare professionals do every day in varying degrees. It’s what bridges our humanity with another. It’s what breaks our hearts open to be able to love more. It’s hard. And it’s worth it. It also takes a tremendous toll on healthcare professionals.
How do we survive and thrive amidst trauma? These are my cornerstones:
1. Let go.
Connect deeply with your feelings, alone or with support, to release internal tension and process challenging experiences. Write, draw, and/or talk about whatever is unresolved inside yourself.
2. Live mindfully.
Mindful practices can be done while driving, internally in meetings, and/or while walking to your next patient’s room. One common practice is taking three to five deep and slow breaths.
3. Rest in the present moment.
As you redirect your attention to nurturing self-care practices, in time you’ll quickly catch yourself overthinking and return to the present moment.
4. Open your heart to yourself.
Ask yourself, “What do I need?” Listening with love helps to create a life you love and allows you to love your work.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.