The creator of the Pause, a moment of shared reflection to help medical professionals process traumatic situations, talks about stress, burnout, and resilience.
Jonathan Bartels, RN, was one of six finalists for the 2017 Schwartz Center National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year Award. He’s won renown for the Pause, a moment of shared reflection to help hospital staff and first responders process emotional stress. Bartels has worked in emergency, trauma, oncology and palliative care in the University of Virginia Health System and facilitates resiliency workshops for the UVA School of Nursing Compassionate Care Initiative
The Pause is meant to help doctors and nurses process their emotions after a patient’s death. Are there applications for daily life?
Pausing is part of everyone’s life. When you get angry, the first thing people tell you is to take a deep breath and count to 10. That’s a mini-pause. It’s also an integral part of mindfulness training, the idea of stepping back to regather yourself. If you’re going into an intense situation, something anxiety-producing, stopping and taking a moment is a good way to gather yourself before you step into that situation.
There are high rates of depression and burnout in the medical field. Have you dealt with that yourself?
I’ve been in health care for about 30 years, so it’s happened two or three times. What it looks like for me is a loss of excitement in life, a loss of passion, numbness, a constant desire to escape. A feeling of things not being right.
How did you “reignite” after experiencing burnout?
I would try to find things to infuse joy and creativity back into my work or into my life. That’s where self-compassion really comes to light. Some people take the role of being a helper and they have to always realize that they, too, will need help.
What helps you handle stress day-to-day?
Finding humor in silly things, in joking with my peers—being able to laugh in spite of the feeling of wanting to cry. Mindfulness meditation. I find release in creating abstract art. Dancing, just to move. Journaling.
Do you have a good work-life balance?
When I work, I work. When I’m not at work, I don’t define myself by my job. I try to keep them separate. I’ve worked with people who never knew I had four kids just because my life outside of here is different from my life inside the hospital. Outside of work, I like to paint. I carve walking canes for people. I enjoy hanging out with friends. I would hang out with my kids [before they left home] and play with them.
What do you teach participants at the resiliency workshops?
We introduce them to a lot of different practices. Sitting and meditation, remaining still, remaining quiet. Yoga and working with one’s body, to be aware of where it traps stress and how to release that. We do practices like journaling. It’s all geared towards things they can choose to do or not do [in daily life]. They are tools in the toolbox.
What are the challenges of trying to mesh practices like yoga and meditation with the mindset of Western medicine?
I teach in the South, and when we started these practices nine years ago, we had to learn how to present the material in such a way that it didn’t close doors. The “language-ing” is very important. Instead of meditation and mindfulness, we’ll just say we’re going to take a moment of silence, we’re going to practice breathing. When we do yoga, we’re stretching.
We also refer to evidence-based practices [demonstrated in studies] to support the work that we do. And we encourage people to make it their own, so if a breathing technique works for you and you’re Christian, you can apply that to your practice as a Christian.
Printed as: Back Chat: Jonathan Bartels, Winter 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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