Workplace Mindfulness Can Cut On-The-Job Stress

A new study by researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that a workplace mindfulness-based intervention dramatically reduced the stress levels of employees exposed to a highly stressful occupational environment.

Members of a surgical intensive care unit at the medical center were randomly assigned to either a stress-reduction intervention or a control group.

The eight-week mindfulness-based interventions included mindfulness, gentle stretching, yoga, meditation, and music in the workplace.

Psychological and biological markers of stress were measured one week before and one week after the intervention to see if these coping strategies would help reduce stress and burnout among employees, researchers said.

Results of the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed that levels of salivary [alpha]-amylase, an index of sympathetic activation of the nervous system — also known as the fight or flight response — were significantly decreased in the intervention group.

The control group showed no changes. Psychological components of stress and burnout were measured using well-established self-report questionnaires.

“Our study shows that this type of mindfulness-based intervention in the workplace could decrease stress levels and the risk of burnout,” said Maryanna Klatt, Ph.D., an associate clinical professor in the department of family medicine.

“What’s stressful about the work environment is never going to change. But what we were interested in changing was the nursing personnel’s reaction to those stresses.

“We measured salivary alpha amylase, which is a biomarker of the sympathetic nervous system activation, and that was reduced by 40 percent in the intervention group.”

Klatt, who is a trained mindfulness and certified yoga instructor, developed and led the mindfulness-based intervention for 32 employees. At baseline, the employees scored the level of stress of their work at 7.15 on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most stressful.

The levels of work stress did not change between the first and second set of assessments, but their reaction to the work stress did change, the researchers noted.

When stress is part of the work environment, it is often difficult to control and can negatively affect employees’ health and ability to function, said lead author Anne-Marie Duchemin, M.D., an associate professor adjunct in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health.

She noted that people who are subjected to chronic stress will often exhibit symptoms of irritability, nervousness, and feeling overwhelmed, as well as have difficulty concentrating or remembering. They also often have changes in appetite, sleep, heart rate, and blood pressure, she said.

“Although work-related stress often cannot be eliminated, effective coping strategies may help decrease its harmful effects,” she said. “The changes in the levels of salivary alpha-amylase suggest that the reactivity to stress was decreased after the eight-week group intervention.”

Source: Ohio State University