Thursday, June 2, 2016

How Mindfulness Can Benefit the Hospice Professional

Guest Post By: Gillian Hamilton, MD, PhD, Administrative Medical Director

Yes, mindfulness is all the rage these days. But what can it do for hospice teams: nurses, social workers, CNAs, physicians, and bereavement counselors?

I first realized that hospice teams need mindfulness when nurses began telling me that they spent all night worrying about their sick patients. Then an excellent and very skilled nursing assistant talked about how guilty she felt because a patient had fallen in the shower, and she couldn’t get it out of her head a month later. As time went by, I realized more and more how often our wonderful staff took the patients’ problems home with them.

It was then I realized that we needed to change this, and that mindfulness was a path. Mindfulness is simply paying attention in the present moment – or living in the present. Sounds easy, but it’s not. Weeks of practice, through a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course of eight 2-hour weekly sessions with nightly homework, teaches this skill. The results are amazing! One nursing assistant said that now when she went home she left her work at work. Another told us that she lived with her adult children, and for the first time after dinner she said “I’m not doing the dishes.” To her shock, the kids said “OK, Mom” and got up and cleaned up the kitchen. “I can’t believe I did it all these years!” she exclaimed. “Finally I realize that I don’t need to be the world’s helper – and being that person has actually made my kids less independent. No more!”

Somehow, living more in the present moment allowed the participants to stay at work when at work, and to stay at home when at home. “I am doing so much better with my husband and children,” said one social worker. “I would get so annoyed with my kids, and so irritable with my spouse. Now I can let things be, and make a decision whether I want to try to change something or not. I choose rather than automatically react. My family can’t believe the change in me, they say I am so much easier to be around and seem so much happier…. This is amazing…”

A Team Leader was especially impressed. After the third class, she spent the weekend with her grandchildren. “Normally, I would have planned a non-stop weekend of activities: the zoo, movies, a puppet show, eating out… But this weekend I decided we would stay home. We looked for bugs in the backyard, we drew pictures of flowers, we described all the smells, we baked cookies… It was the best weekend I ever had with them. I enjoyed their smiles and laughs, and I enjoyed just sitting in the backyard looking at all the plants… I just enjoyed being in the present. It was amazing. When I came back to work today, it was like a new world…”

To learn more about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, go to the website of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts,; or read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living. Mindfulness based stress reduction classes to reduce stress and increase the joy of living are now held all over the world. In Arizona, go to www.hov/mindfulness to find classes.

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