Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interconnectedness…The Foundation of Holistic Nursing and Living

The view from one of the many wonderful beaches
in Okinawa. Balance, beauty, and the clear blue sea.
I recently attended the American Holistic Nurses Association annual conference in Bonita Springs, Florida. I had been anticipating this conference since attending the 2015 conference in Branson, Missouri. Immediately upon arrival at the Ft. Myers airport, I felt at peace. I walked through the airport doors and was welcomed by the balmy Florida air, and it took me back to a place, which I called home for over three years – Okinawa, a small subtropical island in the Ryukuan island chain south of Japan.  The palm trees, bright sun, and warm breeze with afternoon showers felt like home. Don’t get me wrong. I love my home now in the mountains of West Virignia. But there is just something about the beach that feeds my soul. I enjoyed more time outside in those five days in Florida than I probably had in a month at home. Of course, not needing to maintain a house and go to a job did allow more free time. I think it felt like home because I found my calling in holistic nursing during my time on the sunny happy island of Okinawa. 

Most conferences are about workshops, classes, dinners, networking, and well….work. The AHNA conference never feels like that for me. Yes, there are workshops and classes, but these classes do not feel obligatory. There is always something on the workshop list for the day that I am excited to attend because there is just so much to learn and share about holistic nursing. One day it was learning about bringing holistic services to your facility. Another it was self-hypnosis. But my favorite was a workshop with a nurse who shared her journey in making self-care a priority. During the class, we discussed the barriers nurses struggle with to care for themselves as the multifaceted people we are.

The underlying story is that holistic nursing isn’t just a niche or focus area for nurses. Sure, I am an ICU nurse. Others who attended the session worked in Labor and Delivery or Case Management. But we are holistic nurses in all of those roles and beyond. Holism is a way of living. I met men and women who are helping their communities, growing their families, and influencing the future of nursing. But what resounded with all of us is that we embrace and celebrate the connection we have to each other, the planet, our families, and our communities. It is so much bigger than you, them, or me. Holism is about all of us, together.

I purchased a small selection of AHNA bookmarks to share with my nursing peers during the conference. The back of the bookmark has a list entitled Nurture the Nurse From A to Z.  It includes a tip on how to nurture us for each letter of the alphabet. But holism isn’t just for nurses or even healthcare professionals. If we take a full reflective look at our lives, we will see how our roles at home, at work, at school, and within our communities are connected and influence each other. And by nurturing ourselves, we can be our bests in each of those roles. But they are not individual roles. They are each one part of a whole person, and each of those roles has an affect on the others.  I can’t be holistic in the ICU with my patients without being holistic with my peers or at home. These roles cannot be compartmentalized. And they shouldn’t be. I am a much better mom, wife, farmer, and community member because I found and embraced holism in my nursing role. And my life has been enriched because I take time to nurture myself. Do I always have time to go to a yoga class or have a massage? Heck no! But I feel nurtured at the end of most days even if I fall asleep in my bed without a meditation because I practice many of the A to Z tips listed on that bookmark as part of my daily life, because I don’t compartmentalize my roles. I have chosen to embrace my interconnectedness with this world and among my varied roles in life. And you can too. I’ll share a few below.

I found this heart-shaped leaf in my drive, reminding
me to always love myself.
Accept yourself, Empower yourself, Love yourself – This seems simple, right? But I spent much of my young adult life trying to fit into a mold that was never meant for me. I was the smart athlete who actually enjoyed art class and the literary classics that my peers groaned about discussing in English class. Then, I was a military spouse, who honestly didn’t love it. Every time my husband was up for re-enlistment I secretly hoped that he would choose not to continue on with that career, even though I didn’t know what we would do if he chose to leave that role. I always longed for something more, to celebrate my passions. But, I didn’t engage in literary discussions about what F. Scot Fitzgerald meant in that chapter of The Great Gatsby because no one else in my class wanted to hear it. I continued to attend spouse functions even though I didn’t enjoy them. And honestly, I wasn’t able to fully accept myself until I was thirty years old. When my husband finally left the military and we began a whole new life. I decided to start going after the things I enjoy and leaving behind those that I do not. So you might see me at the baseball field with my kids and then at a poetry reading or local band’s show the next day. And next week you’ll probably see me at the wellness fair, because all of those things are important to me. But you won’t find me at an obligatory event, and I won’t hesitate to share my opinion on the current political environment or a literary classic or on the most recent research around reiki, aromatherapy, meditation, or medical marijuana – even if you “don’t get the hippie stuff”. I’ll share it with you because I have finally accepted embraced my true self.

Be present in the moment – We are always busy. We celebrate having too many things on our plate, how little sleep we get; the list goes on and on. But we miss out on so much by being busy. Life is not about how many things we can cram into our day. It’s about enjoying whatever things we choose to put on that list. So if something doesn’t bring true joy, I would challenge you to rethink your to-do list. Even if you can’t reduce your list, you can choose to do only one thing at a time. Do not try to have dinner with your family and respond to work emails. Put the computer away and be present with your loved ones. The emails can wait. Your family can’t. If you’re rushing between meetings or other tasks, take a moment to notice the breeze or the new flowers that have emerged along the roadside. Or even just how your feet feel in the shoes as you walk down the hall. What are the smells that you notice? Or the sounds? This, my friend, is being present.

This tree growing through the limestone demonstrates our
interconnection to all other life on Earth. 
Connect with nature – Many of our jobs keep us inside. If you can, take your lunch outside in the sunshine. Or make time on your day off for a walk in the park or on a nature trail. Plant a garden to tend and harvest from this summer. Even in the winter we can connect with nature by making bird feeders from pinecones or just watching for nature out our windows. I feel renewed after being outside for a while, whether it’s on a walk or just sitting on my porch. A couple of days ago, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. The weather was changing, and a storm was quickly approaching. I took my yoga mat to the covered porch and had a short meditation while the light rain and wind blew around me. It was magnificent and the absolute highlight of my day!

Maintain wellness, Nurture your spirit, Quiet your mind – These go hand in hand in my book. We cannot maintain wellness without nurturing our spirit in whatever way fulfills us or with a frazzled mind. With our minds constantly running, we set ourselves up for the stress trap. But we can avoid this trap by practicing meditation, prayer, or just gentle quietness as part of our self-care routine. There is no shortage of guided meditations, spa-like soothing music via instrumentals or Tibetan bowls or even nature sounds on YouTube. Here is my personal playlist. I have short five minute meditations, full body scans, and long recordings of calming music. So, something for whatever I need and whatever time I have to reset at that moment. We can also support wellness through exercise and nutrition. A whole foods focused diet can be easily incorporated into our routine. Plus, going out to the local farmer market provides us with an opportunity for physical activity and socialization to further nourish our bodies.

Use your gifts and talents freely - Share what you love with others! I am always amazed at the people who want to learn about my holistic nursing or who want to hear about my family’s farming ventures. I used to hesitate to share my gifts and talents. Now I share them freely. And so should you!


  1. Love this, April! Such a beautiful way to celebrate nursing, connection, and our joy of taking care of self. Thanks for carrying on the spirit of AHNA!

  2. April- great article. I always come back feeling so invigorated and inspired after an AHNA conference. You wrote: 'And honestly, I wasn’t able to fully accept myself until I was thirty years old.' Good for you! It took me much much longer!!!! I just know you are an inspiration to many nurses and others out there.

  3. What a beautiful article! I'm looking forward to creating the intent of attending the AHNA conference next year. This was very inspiring.

  4. this is a beautiful article April!