With stressful work environments, life-and-death decisions and long hours, nurses in our modern healthcare system increasingly suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue.

Fifteen years ago, Mary E. Harris, CCRN, a cardiac ICU nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital and a board-certified holistic nurse, created a holistic retreat for the organization’s nurses to learn how to feel healthier and revitalized doing their life-saving work while avoiding burnout. Through discussion, presentations, journaling, yoga, drumming and guided meditation, the participating nurses delve into personal self-care beliefs and self-renewal practices.

Cathy Alvarez, RN, the assistant patient services manager at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center, continues in Harris’ footsteps leading the monthly Nurture the Nurse retreats. In addition to being a certified holistic nurse and nurse manager and leader, Alvarez is a Reiki II practitioner.

As of April 2016, inpatient and outpatient nurses are also able to qualify for six contact hours by taking the eight-hour program, which is held one Friday a month September through June at the Mercy by the Sea Retreat and Conference Center, located in Madison, Connecticut. Combined with Alvarez’s promotion efforts—such as increasing communications with nursing managers and uploading program updates to the organization’s computer screensavers—the retreat is full each month with waitlists.

“Although our goal is to offer this amazing retreat to everyone in our organization, we need to focus our current resources on nurses. We maintain the number of nurses in each group at 12 to foster a sense of community and intimacy that allows them to talk more freely in the smaller group setting,” explains Alvarez, who began leading the program in September 2015. January’s retreat will focus on supporting the nurse leader, including assistant nurse managers, clinical nurse specialists, nursing directors and others.

The Nurture the Nurse retreat begins in the morning with one hour of self-care information and tools. The dynamics of energy, the barriers of taking care of ourselves at work and what nurses are currently doing are some of the subjects covered. “We put self-care into perspective versus doing regular things. We learn about power of the breath, simple yoga stretches, fruit-infused water, and so many other observations and ways to bring self-care to ourselves at home and at work,” says Alvarez.

Patrick Moore, ND, a nutritional scientist with an extensive background in nutritional and botanical medicine, then focuses on supplements, using food as medicine, super foods and more with the nurse participants. The day also includes yoga, a Djembe drum circle, self-reflection journaling time and guided imagery.

By understanding and heeding their own self-care needs and patterns of behavior, the nurses can better handle the stress of their positions and model healthier behavior for their patients and coworkers, states Alvarez.

Ariana Rawls Fine is editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County and New Haven/Middlesex Counties. She resides in Stratford with her family.