Spirituality is a vague concept for many nurses—especially when our primary focus is implementing physical, scientific interventions. As holistic caregivers, we believe nursing care should be for body, mind, and spirit. Our
personal spirituality, however, is easy to ignore.
Some of us don’t think about our spirituality until we are turned upside down by a life crisis. But over time, even without crisis, if we don’t care for our spirits we will suffer consequences.
Paying attention to personal spirituality is especially important for nurses. Researchers and spiritual care experts have found that offering good spiritual care requires the nurse to attend to his or her own spirituality (makes sense, right?) (Baldacchino, 2011; Taylor, 2009; 2011). Furthermore, we regularly experience spiritual distress in our work, which leads to weariness, depression, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Moreover, being spiritually healthy – soaring spiritually –
feels better than spiritual malnourishment. In fact, it feels great!
What is spiritual health? Our spirit is the core of our being, a characteristic of all humanity. While our spirit is accessed through our mind, spiritual health is more than mental health. Spirituality involves the ultimate search for meaning and understanding of the sacred or transcendent. It expresses a universal human capacity to transcend ourselves and connect
with God, other people, and the world around us. It is through spirituality that we find self-fulfillment, peace, and meaning in life and suffering (Lepherd, 2015). A frequently used assessment of spiritual health is the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS), a general indicator of perceived well-being and spiritual quality of life, with subscales that assess Religious Well-Being (one's relationship with God or “higher power”), and Existential Well-Being (one's sense of life purpose and life satisfaction) (Bufford, Paloutzian, & Ellison, 1991).
What helps nurses’ spirituality? Recently, researchers in Iran found a positive correlation between nurses’ clinical competence and spiritual health, and professional ethics and spiritual health (Tabriz, Orooji, Bikverdi, & Taghiabad, 2017). A U.S. chaplaincy department conducted a randomized controlled study of a spiritual retreat for nurses. Nurses who did the spiritual retreat scored higher at 1 and 6 months on the SWBS and Daily Spiritual Experience Scale than nurses with no retreat (Bay, Ivy, & Terry, 2010). The ancient text of Proverbs in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) and Christian Holy Bible speak about what makes for spiritual health (kind words, trustworthy words, humility, relationship with God, clean heart), versus a crushed, broken, or weighed down spirit (i.e., Psalm 51; Proverbs 15:4, 16:19-24, 17:22, 18:14, 29:23). Wise king Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart, for from it flow the springs of life
” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV).
How are you caring for your spirit? Do you engage in spiritual renewal? A renewal experience is doing something you enjoy like a walk in nature or a hobby. I find renewal exercising with friends and playing the piano. For nurses of faith, attending a gathering in your worship tradition can be (should be!) a renewal experience.
Meet regularly with friends who will listen to and support you. Two months ago, I reluctantly joined a small group from my church to share time, meals, and service projects. I expected this to be work. To my surprise, even though I can’t attend regularly, the group is renewing me. This week, a young man shared his struggles with me, and I shared mine. He texted me today saying he was praying for me, and that “your absence is felt and we cherish when you are able to attend.” I felt spiritually connected, that someone of like mind cares for me. That is spiritual renewal in the struggle of life
Below are ideas for spiritual self-care. As we think about balancing body, mind, and spirit during this year’s 2017 National Nurses Week, take time to care for your
Ideas to Help Your Spirit Soar
- Daily quiet time with personal reflection or meditation on spiritual readings.
- Read enlightening materials—spiritual readings (i.e., Bible) or devotional books.
- Plan for times of rest and take your mind off work, off problems, and relax (Sabbath). Consider a one-day or longer “guided spiritual retreat” at a retreat center near you.
- Attend gatherings of your faith tradition.
- Spend time in prayer, talking with the Mystery many call God.
- Join a “share group” of people with whom you have a common interest.
- Do special things you enjoy—go to a greenhouse, art gallery, antique mall, camping or on a picnic, take in a movie with a friend. Be creative!
- Engage in regular physical exercise (walk/run alone or with a friend; join an exercise group).
- Conduct a spiritual self-assessment; heighten awareness of your spirituality (Beckman, Boxley-Harges, Bruick-Sorge, & Salmon, 2007).
- Engage in spiritual direction with a spiritual director or companion consistent with your beliefs (http://www.sdiworld.org).
Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, PhD, RN
National Director, Nurses Christian Fellowship USA
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Christian Nursing
Baldacchino, D. R. (2011). Teaching on spiritual care: The perceived impact on qualified nurses. Nurse Education in Practice, 11(1), 47–53. doi: 10.1016/j.nepr.2010.06.008
Bay, P. S., Ivy, S. S., & Terry, C. L. (2010). The effect of spiritual retreat on nurses’ spirituality: A randomized controlled study. Holistic Nursing Practice, 24(3), 125-133.
Beckman, S., Boxley-Harges, S., Bruick-Sorge, C., & Salmon, B. (2007). Five strategies that heighten nurses’ awareness of spirituality to impact client care. Holistic Nursing Practice, 21(3), 135-139.
Bufford, R. K., Paloutzian, R. F., & Ellison, C. W. (1991). Norms for the Spiritual Well-Being Scale. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 19(1), 56-70.
Lepherd, L. (2015). Spirituality: Everyone has it, but what is it? International Journal of Nursing Practice, 21(5), 566–574. doi: 10.1111/ijn.12285
Tabriz, E. R.., Orooji, A. Bikverdi, M. & Taghiabadl, B. A. (2017). Investigation of clinical competence and its relationship with professional ethics and spiritual health in nurses. Health, Spirituality and Medical Ethics, 4(1), 2-9.
Taylor, E. J. (2009). What do I say? Talking with patients about spirituality. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton.
Taylor, E. J. (2011). Spiritual care: Evangelism at the bedside? Journal of Christian Nursing, 28(4), 194-202. doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0b013e31822b494d