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Teaching mindfulness for reducing stress in health care workers 

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Emily Scott

(Keystone State News Connection) Ongoing research studies at a Philadelphia medical school are focusing on stress-reduction interventions for health care workers experiencing burnout exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Daniel Monti, chair of the department of integrative medicine and nutritional sciences at Thomas Jefferson University and The Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, said the eight-week virtual program teaches mindfulness and meditation, which can be helpful for health care workers who have been inundated by grief and illness during the pandemic.

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Monti explained it is not about replacing psychiatry but providing tools to alleviate the lingering effects of stress and anxiety.

"Many of us, we're in that middle zone, where it isn't that it was an acute clinical diagnosis, but the stress affects people," Monti pointed out. "It's been highly rewarding working with health care workers. We know what a difficult job they have, and we want to support them and help them in any way we can."

Previous studies have shown mindfulness strategies can be effective in fostering resiliency and recovery in health care workers during the pandemic. Due to stressors and high workloads related to COVID-19, a 2021 study predicted Pennsylvania will be short nearly 300,000 health care workers by 2026.

Monti noted Jefferson also offers mindfulness programs to the general public. After nearly two years into the pandemic, the social isolation and difficult decisions people have had to make to keep themselves and others safe have taken a toll.

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"Stress, in a way, is an exacerbation of the fight-or-flight mechanisms of the nervous system," Monti remarked. "That fight-or-flight mechanism is meant to be temporary until whenever the perceived threat to survival passes. However, in a pandemic, it never goes away."

Through meditation practices, participants can learn to reduce the physical effects of long-term stress, along with ways to better communicate strong feelings such as anger. Jefferson's integrative medicine academic department is the first of its kind in the country.