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Compassion: The Keen Awareness of the Interdependence of All Things

June 1, 2022 | AONN+ Blog | Membership
Featuring:
Jennifer Bires, LICSW, OSW-C
Jennifer Bires, LICSW, OSW-C
Executive Director of Life with Cancer and Patient Experience
Inova Schar Cancer Institute (ISCI)
Fairfax, VA

Think of the 3 most important people in your life and make sure you know who they are before you keep reading. Pause. Take a breath. Did you make the list?

As navigators, we are always helping others. We help patients and their families navigate complex medical systems. We help them learn new–sometimes scary–terminology, work to navigate the anxiety that comes with a new diagnosis, teach patients and families how to take care of themselves with new limitations, adjust to a new normal, and sometimes even prepare for the end of their life.

As nurse navigators, social workers, and patient navigators, we are often the glue of the team. Regardless of a navigator’s educational background, we are often seen as the person that holds the process together and safely gets a patient from one point in time to another. We are connected in the community, know where the resources are, and often are the first person a patient reaches out to when they need something. Navigators exude compassion. We are often so full of compassion it is palpable in every interaction that we have with patients, families, and colleagues.

Now, I want you to revisit the list of the 3 most important people in your life you made when you started reading this blog. Are you on that list?

When we think about compassion, it does not just extend to our patients, the healthcare teams that we work with, and our own families–we must also extend compassion to ourselves. This is especially important today as we work with staffing shortages, a global pandemic, and different needs coming at us from all different directions.

Being a member of AONN+ has given me a compassionate community to learn from, to grow with, and to reach out when I need support. At the heart of navigation is compassion and serving others, but what’s equally important is our ability to have compassion for ourselves. We must also create space and tenderness for our own suffering and our own humanness. Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher and expert in the self-compassion space, highlights 3 elements of self-compassion:

  1. Self-Kindness versus Self-Judgment
  2. Common Humanity versus Isolation
  3. Mindfulness versus Over-Identification

Today, many of us are critical of ourselves feeling like we cannot do enough. We are isolated because of COVID and the daily demands of life, and it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of over-identifying with our negative thoughts or being swept up in the pain of the world.

As navigators, having compassion towards others comes easily. Our ability to witness another person’s suffering and respond to their pain is what makes us so good at the work that we do. We must work at giving ourselves that same gift of compassion.

There are many ways we can do that. One way is by putting our own needs first–whether we do that by taking a lunch break, reading the AONN+ blog, joining navigation networks and sharing time and space with colleagues, or even taking a break to be rejuvenated by a conference, these are all ways we can show ourselves compassion.

We can also pay attention to the way we speak to ourselves. What happens when you make a mistake? What does the voice in your head say? Would you ever talk to a friend like that? If not–take a pause to find a new way to speak to yourself.

How often during the day do you take a pause for yourself? Whether it’s just a moment to connect with your breath before you hurry to help the next patient, taking time to think about things you are grateful for, or reflecting on the meaning of your work.

Self-compassion is not made up of grand gestures but a million small shifts in how we treat and talk to ourselves. As oncology nurse, social work, and patient navigators, we have all mastered the art of being compassionate. Now it’s time to practice using that skill set on ourselves.

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