Meditation has shown to provide moderate results when it comes to improving the mindset of healthcare providers.
Burnout is a rising pandemic affecting healthcare workers worldwide. And more studies are targeting the well-being of our healthcare providers. Evidence has shown a significant increase in emotional exhaustion of those in the field; especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty-70% of healthcare workers were already experiencing considerable stress before the pandemic, and the global issue has made this worse.
Working long, exhausting hours, witnessing numerous deaths, dealing with PPE and staffing shortages, and lack of resources account for the some of the mental health problems within the healthcare workforce. Adding the impact of COVID-19 to an infrastructure lacking support places additional stress on a faltering system, leaving our healthcare workers struggling with the long-term consequences of poor health. Some of these consequences include insomnia, depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal ideation, and unfortunately, suicide.
Not only does poor mental health and chronic stress among providers affect the system, but these factors impact patients as well. It results in reduced access to health care from a lack of providers, which possibly increases healthcare costs. It also contributes to insufficient or negligent patient care.
As research has proven, resources currently available are insufficient at treating emotional stress and burnout, leading to more providers leaving the field. Successful management of burnout and stress might prevent this growing problem. Because of this, the Biden-Harris administration has given $103 million to improve mental health and wellness among the healthcare workforce, and resources such as meditation are becoming more and more popular.
A recent study was conducted testing the hypothesis of whether the practice of transcendental meditation could reduce stress among healthcare workers. Transcendental meditation is a method for detaching from anxiety through the repetition of mantras and meditation. Participants silently repeat a mantra, “a sound lacking meaning, without concentration or contemplation.” Earlier studies of transcendental meditation showed a promising reduction of stress response among teachers, veterans, and emergency department clinicians.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center conducted a clinical trial testing this theory. Out of the 80 participants, 66% of the participants were female, which matched recent studies showing higher burnout rates among female healthcare workers who make up more than 50% of the healthcare workforce.
Randomly selected, 41 healthcare workers participated in a 3-month transcendental meditation intervention. Stress among participants was measured prior using the Global Severity Index on a point system of 0-72. Participants then received 5 days of training: Day one consisted of one-on-one training from a certified transcendental meditation teacher. The following days were group practices of 75 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of daily private practice.
After the training, there were 3 additional follow-up sessions with a teacher over the total intervention period. A control group of 39 participants was given access to mental health resources like, “mindfulness-based stress reduction, journaling workshops, stress and resilience training, and access to fitness and nutrition consultations,” the research states. Several tests were used to evaluate insomnia, psychological resilience, depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and participant burnout. Commitment to transcendental meditation was assessed by the instructor.
Results showed that while transcendental meditation improved emotional exhaustion, overall, its reduction of stress was small and insignificant. In comparison, the transcendental meditation group decreased stress by 5.6 points and the control group decreased by 3.8 points. Emotional exhaustion between the groups measured a decrease of 8 points among the meditation group and a decrease of 2.6 points from the control group.
While this study had a higher number of female participants and relatively small number of participants overall, future studies may recruit more providers to detect larger numerical differences in the trial. For now, there seems to be moderate improvement in symptoms with the use of meditation.