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Healthy Minds, Healthy Hearts – “when empathy hurts, compassion can heal” by Adam Hoffman

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Nursing is a unique job. We experience the  triumphs and the traumas sometimes all in a day.  Patients and their families  welcome us into their lives and first hand we see healing, relief, health, illness, trauma and sadness of others. Our living with other peoples births, deaths, healing and distress up close and emotionally centred in others means we are no longer a stranger to them or them to us.

So how do nurses cope with these vast emotional experiences? How are nurses taught to deal with distressing situations? These life experiences of nurses are emotional, often visually traumatic and in the face of it all nurses practice compassion, empathy, sympathy and support. But how does a nurse process this information when repeatedly exposed to such stress?

An article I read by Adam Hoffman (22 Aug 2013) explained that over time this level of distress limits the amount of compassion  and empathy from their stores of emotion. In a study they exposed a group to TV clips containing highly emotive traumatic scenes and supported this group with meditation, a loving kindness meditation class from Eastern traditions. The second group did not receive the meditation class. Overall the emotional responses from those in the meditation group were more measured, less stressed and had an increased ability to cope.

So do nurses need more compassion to give compassion? It is no surprise that the emotional stresses nurses experience cause burnout, anxiety and stress over years of exposure to pain and suffering of others. How many hospitals currently offer relaxation classes or meditation groups? The current media discussions are focused on the care and compassion of nurses, the 6c’s and dignity training for nurses. But do nurses need to be recipients as well as givers?

(Image from Google images)
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