Eight ways that psychiatric nurses can use mindfulness practices to help patients

Mindfulness is a practice used in psychiatric care to improve awareness and acceptance of the present moment. It’s a technique that helps people suffering from mental health issues to understand what matters in the present and filter how to respond to life’s challenges. Mindfulness has evolved as a practice to develop individual resilience and emotional stability. Today, psychiatric nurses can use it to help patients combat mental health challenges and gain a sense of control over their lives.

How can you explore mindfulness to improve your patients’ mental health, and what would this mean for them?

How can nurses utilize mindfulness

Mindfulness is about helping patients shift their focus from stress-inducing thoughts to a more relaxed and calmer state. How does it work, and how can it help your patients?

For aspiring nurses wishing to incorporate mindfulness into their practice, there are programs that will improve your abilities and enable you to gain more certifications. These Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner online programs provide comprehensive mental health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment training. The program provided by Wilkes University can be completed in a little over two years (and after 500 clinical hours). Upon graduation, you will have learned how to apply theoretical knowledge in practice. This advanced online training will enhance your ability to address complex psychiatric disorders and apply innovative interventions to improve patient lives.

  1. Create a non-judgmental space

Patients with mental health issues can only thrive in a safe and supportive environment, which is why a non-judgmental space is the core of psychiatric nursing. Your patients should feel safe when sharing their thoughts and emotions with you, without the fear of being judged or criticized.

Nurses must be aware of their unconscious biases. As a nurse, you should focus more on maintaining neutral body language and an empathetic tone. Why? These nonverbal cues shape how patients perceive the safety of their environment. For instance, a patient sharing a distressing experience can feel safe and understood when you present a calm and attentive demeanor.

This is where active listening comes into play. You must dedicate your attention to listening to your patients while understanding the emotions behind their expressions. This shows patients that their experiences and feelings are heard and valued. For example, if a patient expresses their anxiety about a particular life event, you should try to offer emotional validation. This validation reassures the patient that their feelings are legitimate. It also makes them feel acknowledged, which goes a long way to helping their recovery.

Aside from being active listeners, nurses should employ reflective speaking techniques. This approach helps you mirror how your patient feels to show comprehension and empathy. Repeating or paraphrasing what the patient has said shows that their message is being accurately received. This helps you understand the patient’s perspective instead of providing solutions or judgments.

  1. Enhance self-awareness

The mindfulness technique generally encourages patients to pay attention to their present experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The goal is to recognize these elements as unique and integral parts of their individuality. How can you apply this?

One practical application of mindfulness in enhancing self-awareness is through guided meditation sessions focusing on bodily sensations. These sessions can help your patients tune into their physical presence. The focus should be on sensations such as tension in their muscles, their breathing rhythm, or feeling their bare feet on the ground.

This activity helps them focus on one body part at a time to increase their bodily awareness and emotional clarity. As patients become more conscious of their physical sensations, they start noticing how these sensations lead to their emotional responses, and it helps them connect the physical state to their mental wellbeing. It helps patients identify how their bodies work so that they can control their responses to events.

As mindfulness can be a daily activity, you can ask your patients to be especially conscious about their eating experience. This could involve noticing the food’s texture, taste, aroma, and even hunger and fullness cues. This way, patients are aware of their eating habits and choices, which can lead to a healthier relationship between their body image and food, as well as focusing the mind.

Also, you could encourage patients to keep a journal. They can understand their mental patterns and emotional responses by writing down their thoughts and feelings. Journaling can also be an easy way for patients to express themselves, explore their inner mind, and be encouraged to document their experiences and emotions. These techniques help patients to articulate and validate their experiences.

  1. Encourage personal responsibility

Patients are more empowered and consciously autonomous when they have a sense of personal responsibility. Mindfulness can help to achieve this.

A practical method to increase personal agency is to help patients reflect and meditate on their responses to stressful events. You can ask your patient to remember a recent stressful event, and then you can watch their emotional and physical reactions to it without judging them. For context, a patient who reacted with anger or withdrawal to the event can be encouraged to take note of these patterns and try constructive responses such as deep breathing, the STOP method (see below) or journaling their thoughts.

You can also encourage personal responsibility by helping them to integrate mindfulness practices into their day. One such practice is mindful walking (just as it is with mindful eating). Here, the patient pays attention to each step, their environment, and how they feel to stay grounded in the present moment. This way, impulsive patients can learn to slow down and be more deliberate about their responses to the things that happen to them and how they feel.

You can also guide patients to mindful reflection, a practice where they reflect on their reaction to a previous event so that they can identify how they could have done better. This helps them understand how to manage their anxiety and do better in the future. By doing this, you’re helping your patients know that they have the power to influence their mental health positively.

  1. Build emotional resilience

Emotional resilience equips patients with the ability to better handle life’s stressors. You can start by teaching them breathing techniques to manage anxiety. How does this work?

Introduce your patients to diaphragmatic breathing. This involves deep, even breaths from the diaphragm. The practice is useful during moments of high anxiety or stress where patients need to be able to process their thoughts. You can guide your patient to focus on their breath, notice its calming effect on the body and mind, and how it eventually leads to relief.

This practice and awareness of emotional triggers can help improve your patients’ emotional resilience. Patients can know their emotional triggers by being intentionally observant of their thoughts and feelings, especially during challenging times. This involves noticing the onset of a negative emotion, acknowledging the feeling without judgment, and gently guiding the focus back to a neutral or positive thought or activity.

This isn’t a one-time practice, but a regular activity that can help patients recognize and manage their triggers to avoid intense emotional responses to stressors or other challenges.

As noted earlier, journaling can also help patients articulate their thoughts and process their emotions. By doing this, they can reflect on their experiences, recognize their emotional patterns, and increase their emotional awareness and resilience. This empowers them with the ability to cope with current and future challenges.

  1. Promote self-compassion

Mental health patients must be kind to themselves – kindness and forgiveness are prerequisites for personal growth. They can understand this by having self-compassion and supporting their individuality.

An effective way to promote self-compassion is to facilitate exercises where patients write kind letters to themselves. This can be particularly useful when they’re going through challenging times. This activity helps patients express empathy, understanding and compassion toward themselves. For example, a patient who feels guilty for something can write about their struggles, efforts, and strengths. The goal is to help patients see themselves positively, even when they’re going through tough times.

Patients may also write letters of love, health, and happiness to others. This will cultivate a habit of self-love and acceptance to counteract negative self-judgments.

These acts of self-compassion can help patients to develop a kinder and more accepting attitude toward themselves. Patients can learn to accept their flaws and realize their potential to be better. Self-compassion promotes a positive self-image and healing.

  1. Develop a growth mindset

Having a growth mindset is about focusing on personal development rather than threats. You can help your patients focus on their experiences and what they can learn from them, rather than how they affect them. A practical approach to this is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

MBCT combines traditional cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness strategies to help patients change their relationship with their thoughts. MBCT can be used to help patients struggling with persistent negative thoughts. In this therapy, patients observe their thoughts as just thoughts, not absolute truths. This observation creates a space between the patient’s thoughts and their reactions and allows them to respond more adaptively to their thoughts.

You can also help patients reframe challenges as opportunities. Patients with anxiety can be encouraged to view social interactions as chances to practice coping strategies and build confidence, rather than situations to be afraid of. This reframing, with time, can help patients face their fears and recognize their potential for personal development. It will also help them to see the value of holding social relationships and not shying away from them.

  1. Build authentic relationships

Helping your patients build relationships with other people is a way to help them engage with others. It’s integral to their social wellbeing, individual development, and mental health, and you can start by using mindful listening group therapy.

Mindful listening exercises in group therapy sessions focus on a speaker without distractions or judgments. Each participant will share their thoughts and experiences while others actively listen. The goal is to:

  • Improve empathetic communication among patients.
  • Help them understand and appreciate different perspectives.
  • Enhance their sense of connection with others.

You can also help them practice mindfulness to enhance their awareness of their emotions and thoughts. This makes it easier for them to understand and empathize with others (which is key in developing social relationships). For this, you can guide patients through meditation that focuses on empathy. Here, patients are encouraged to consider the feelings and experiences of others by imagining themselves in the other person’s situation.

This way, patients are fully immersed in how other people feel, and they get to avoid self-centeredness.

  1. Reduce impulsivity

Impulsivity is a common challenge that leads to actions that patients usually later regret. If they don’t explicitly express regret, they express how their behavior doesn’t align with their true intentions or selves. You can, however, use mindfulness techniques to help manage impulsivity. You can start by using the ‘STOP’ method for impulsive behavior.

The STOP acronym stands for:

  • Stop: Pause whatever you are doing for a moment.
  • Take a breath: Focus on your breath to bring your attention to the present.
  • Observe: Notice what is happening inside you. What are you thinking about? What are you feeling? Also, observe the situation around you.
  • Proceed: After this brief pause and observation, choose how to proceed in a beneficial way that aligns with your values and principles. In other words, proceed with an action that you won’t regret.

Teaching your patients this will help them to carefully assess their feelings and the context of the situation to decide on a more appropriate response.

Aside from the STOP method, you can also teach patients focused breathing techniques when they want to act impulsively. They make a conscious effort to control their speech while shifting focus to their breath, taking slow, deep breaths until the urge for an impulsive reaction diminishes.

So, why mindfulness?

Integrating mindfulness techniques into psychiatric care can transform mental health treatment. You get to cultivate a non-judgmental space and help patients promote self-awareness, personal responsibility, and emotional resilience. This mindfulness strategy will address patients’ mental health challenges and contribute to their overall wellbeing and personal development. You get to help people recognize and harness their inner strengths so that they can engage more with the world around them.

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