I was asked to give a presentation for the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association on Mindfulness and Meditation for their Enrolled Nurses Education Day.

When I started thinking about this I could feel my body getting tied up and my heart starting to race. I knew this could be difficult. They were expecting around 70 nurses and I have never talked in front of a group that big before.  My experiences with public speaking have been challenging since I was a child.

I have always been a shy person and speaking up was not something I found easy to do.  I teach Mindfulness and Meditation in relation to the stress response, so I should be brave, vulnerable and honest and own this physiological response and show the audience of nurses exactly what really happens in a stress response.  I would then mindfully explain my experience as it was happening, in the moment, without judgement.

I was honest to my audience about my novice speaking and I was aware that my body was in flight mode.  I looked at the door, it was hard for me to concentrate. My prefrontal cortex was shutting down. I brought notes with me as I was self-aware that this might happen.  I talked to my audience about how my limbic system was detecting a security breach and I asked the audience “I think it’s wrong, smiling.  I think I’m safe with an audience of nurses? “. I went on to explain that how our intrinsic memory can believe we are in danger through past subconscious memory and just the thought of such an event can lead us into a fight, flight, freeze mode where we lose our ability to think properly.

My goal was to educate the audience to firstly recognise someone in the stress response, yourself included, then to initiate, compassion and kindness to oneself or others as we guide ourselves or others back to a state of haemostasis.

When there is an awareness of the physiological pathways of the stress response, we no longer take fight, flight, freeze behaviour personally as we realise that a person in this state is not thinking to their capability.

When we recognise this stress response is active in ourselves we can take belly breaths where we inhale through our nose and blow out or expand our abdomen, then exhale through pursed lips and our abdomen will reduce. You try to double the exhalation for example inhalation hold for the count of two, exhalation for the count of four. Make sure it’s comfortable.  This abdominal breathing will push down the diaphragm and stimulate the vagus nerve and initiate the parasympathetic nervous system response and calm the body.

When you feel stressed this abdominal breathing method is always available. For me, it is like a reset button.  Think of music. If there is no pause in the music, it would just be noise, it’s the pause that makes the music come alive.  Embrace the pause in your life.  I take these breaths between patients. I take these breaths when I do my five moments of hand hygiene. I quietly do this breathing when I am working with someone who is in stress response. The operating theatre is a highly stressful environment.  I can stay focused on my job, in the moment and remain patient advocate throughout the entire process with full clarity and focus.  The ability to do this is so empowering and I love nursing and living mindfully.

I’m not sure how the nurses in the audience felt about my imaginative presentation on that day. I know that I felt safe to share this experience with them and I thank them for holding space for me at that time.  I also want to give special thanks to the presenters and organisers from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association on that day as they so compassionately helped me through this stress response.  I felt totally supported.

What I wanted to demonstrate to the audience was that everyone starts at the beginning when we branch out into learning new things.  If we had nurses in the audience like me, that are shy and struggle to speak up, I hope I inspired you to try and to let your voice be heard, shake or no shake. I hope you will be brave and believe in yourself. Most importantly I hope you do all this with kindness and compassion for yourself , just the same as you give to your patients.

And lastly, I hope you do all this without judgement as you realise you are not defined by one moment of your life. I hope you learn the lesson, accept the moment with gratitude and simply smile, and let go.