Observation… the first vital sign

Sep 26, 2022 | Reflective practice

Attending to vital signs is a routine, constant and essential part of any health care practice. A person’s vital observations can provide us with a great deal of information on how they are and how their body is going. Checking someone’s pulse, blood pressure, respirations, oxygen saturations and monitoring their pain levels are all very important; but so too is the simplicity of observation. 

As nurses and midwives we observe constantly, looking out for something untoward. Nurses and midwives are amazing at seeing what is not meant to be, the out of the ordinary, but this is only one perspective of observation.  

So what does it truly mean to observe something?

Have you ever had the experience of walking into a room and felt that there were emotions in the room such as anger, sadness, bitterness or resentment?

Often this is something that we don’t necessarily see with our eyes, but something that we can feel, we have a sense of it. This is part of what observation is. The second part is when we feel the anger or sadness and what we then do with it. For example, we could go into fix it or make it better mode or we could simply observe what is taking place around us, essentially reading the situation and allowing it to unfold with full understanding and as it needs to.

When we choose to take on the responsibility for providing solutions or bettering a situation, we have automatically taken on the emotions as our own and this means that we stop observing. We become a part of the situation that is occurring, often becoming focussed on a particular outcome.

How do others’ emotions affect us?

When we take on the emotions of others it directly effects our own wellbeing, including our own vital signs which can result in a change of respiratory rate, heart rate and perhaps even instigating the ‘fight or flight’ response of our bodies’ nervous systems. As a consequence of this we may feel immediately tired and eventually exhausted if this is something that we continue to do. 

This choice may also prevent another person from feeling the ramifications of their own behaviour, because we have taken on the responsibility of their choices for them.

In observation we create a space where we don’t need to take emotions on. Then the person experiencing the emotion is offered the opportunity to see their own choices and behaviour much more clearly.

Learning to truly observe situations does take time and practice, but it is a great tool to naturally develop because it benefits our own wellbeing and also that of our patients, colleagues and all who may interact with us during the day.

Observation is such an important part of our care. To observe or connect with our own body offers a valuable stop moment, which then allows us to readjust to our natural sense of quality and inner knowing. From here we can naturally halt any choice to absorb another’s emotional response, leaving our own bodies clear to provide the true support and care that we are capable of. 

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