Spotlight On . . . Sali Burns

Where are you from originally?

I'm from Penrhyn-coch near Aberystwyth. Since leaving the family farm at 17 years old I have lived in Carmarthenshire, Sussex, Surrey, London and Cardiff before settling in the Caernarfon area 20 years ago.

Why did you decide on a career in nursing?

Well, mental health nursing is my second career. My first career was in theatre and media. During the early years I worked on some drama projects with people who had a mental health issue or a learning disability. I really enjoyed  getting to know these people but was also aware that I had no real understanding of their lives or their difficulties. As time went on, I moved into working on TV and film production so for several years had no involvement in grass roots community arts projects. Then, when my closest friend suddenly became critically ill, something changed in me and I decided I didn't want to work in the media any more – I wanted to look into the possibility of training as a mental health nurse. I met with mental health lecturers at Bangor University and started my nurse training in March 1999. I'm also glad to say my friend recovered fully from her illness.

What did you find stressful when you were a student nurse?

I unexpectedly became pregnant in year 1 of the course and was a single parent for years 2 and 3. It was pretty stressful trying to fit everything in but my family and close friends were very supportive and I discovered time management skills and self-discipline that I never knew existed in me before! When I finished the course and qualified as a mental health nurse it did wonders for my self-esteem because I was so proud of what I had achieved despite (or because of) the challenges. 

What roles have you had since qualifying as a nurse?

From 2002-2013 I was a group therapist and member of the community mental health team in Conwy. Then from 2013 to 2017 I was the psychological therapist for cancer, palliative care and inherited bleeding disorders services in Gwynedd and Ynys Mon.

Tell us a bit more about mindfulness.

Although mindfulness practices developed in Eastern traditions, mindfulness in health and social care is a totally secular (non-religious) therapy. People who practice mindfulness find it can really help them deal with stress. The way this works is that by practising mindfulness, we learn to notice not only our thoughts and feelings but also our struggles. We humans tend to want to hang on to experiences we are enjoying and we tend to want to push away or zone out of experiences we don’t like - such as stress. Mindfulness helps us minimise this hanging on and pushing away. Then we can concentrate fully on pleasant experiences or we can let go of over-thinking and struggling with unpleasant experiences so we can get on with just caring for ourselves in the stress or distress.

What makes you stressed?

Parenting! (Although it’s also lovely being a parent).  People lying. Time pressures.

How do you manage stress?

The first thing I do is to take a break from the stressful situation as soon as I can. I then use some mindfulness techniques. The first thing I do is bring my attention to where the feeling of stress is being experienced in my body. Then I notice the thoughts that are going around in my mind.  Next, I try to identify which thoughts are helpful and which ones are just making things worse - then I let go of the unhelpful thinking as best as I can.  I work with the stressed feeling in my body – just letting it be there but also trying to relax around it rather than tensing around it or wishing it wasn't there. Then, for the last step of dealing with stress in the moment, I pay attention to where I am - noticing how things look, how things sound and feel. This brings me back to reality and stops my thoughts spiralling out of control.

What has life taught you so far?

Life – and mindfulness – has taught me to be kinder to myself. Being kinder to myself has meant I am more comfortable with not being perfect. Interestingly, this has then freed my attention up so I can actually be more present and available (and maybe kinder sometimes) to the people around me.

What would you say to student nurses who are feeling stressed?

  1. Be kind to yourself (see above)
  2. Be realistic about what you can do/achieve
  3. Keep communicating with the people who care for you
  4. Hone your time-management skills.
  5. Have lots of appropriate hugs