Work Your Body And Mind To Combat Stress
Sara Thompson – M.Sc. Exercise Science
In today’s fast-paced world, work accounts for the majority of stress in the United States (Aitkens et al., 2014). Stress leads to numerous mental and physical consequences such as irritability, depression, difficulties sleeping, pain, as well as numerous stress-related diseases (Wolever et al., 2012). In addition to these health consequences, this puts a great burden on the health care system, not to mention the economic toll it takes on companies when employees are too sick to work.
While there is not a cure for stress,
there are several strategies that have shown to decrease anxiety, combat stress and depression. One of these strategies is mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness originates from Buddhism, and its objective is to be fully self-aware and in the present moment. Once practiced, mindfulness helps individuals take control of their lives and tackle problems in a more direct manner (de Bruin et al., 2017). Mindfulness has become popular recently in Western culture, with growing evidence that mindfulness and meditation can reduce anxiety, depression and stress (Goyal et al. 2014). After studying mindfulness and meditation versus relaxation training in students, Jain and colleagues suggested that while both mindfulness and somatic relaxation reduces distress and improves mood, mindfulness meditation also reduces distractive thoughts and behaviours (Jain et al., 2007).
Another popular strategy for combat stress is yoga. Yoga consists of physical poses and accompanying breathing techniques (de Bruin et al., 2017) and is now practiced almost universally. In addition to physical benefits such as improved strength and flexibility, yoga has been shown to reduce anxiety by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol (Granath et al., 2006). Similarly, in addition to the well-accepted benefits of exercise on physical health, exercise has been shown to decrease stress, depression, and anxiety (Conn, 2010a, Conn, 2010b).
While mindfulness meditation, yoga, and physical exercise have all been shown to combat stress, an optimal strategy that is feasible and accepted in the work setting is not yet known. Therefore, in a proof of concept study, de Bruin and colleagues aimed to test the feasibility, acceptability, and effects of a stress-relieving intervention that incorporate all three strategies (mindfulness meditation, yoga, and physical exercise), in the hope of improving work-related stress (de Bruin et al., 2017).
Twenty-six participants were referred to the study based on work-related stress. Measures were taken before and after the intervention, as well as 6-week and 6-month follow-up measurements. The 6-week “Mindful2Work” program consisted of weekly physical exercise, yoga and mindfulness meditation training. The weekly two-hour sessions consisted of 20 minutes of physical exercise, 20 minutes of yoga, and 80 minutes of mindfulness meditation. The exercise was done outside and consisted of aerobic exercise, and exercises that targeted the major muscle groups. The yoga was based on a gentle practice, focusing on relaxation and stress relief (Hanson, 2011).
The mindfulness training involved practical learning (meditation), as well as reflecting home practices, and discussing the importance and theory of mindfulness. In addition to the weekly sessions, the participants were asked to practice 20 minutes of mindfulness and 10 minutes of yoga at home. They were also instructed to perform 20 minutes of exercise at home, once or twice per week.
Related Article: Mindfulness – What Does That Even Mean?
The main finding was that work-related fatigue and exhaustion significantly decreased following the 6-week intervention. What’s more, these variables improved even more in the 6-week and 6-month follow-up measures. Participants also showed decreased anxiety, depression, and stress following the training, as well as improved sleep. There was a zero percent dropout rate, with 89% of the participants completing at least 5 out of the 6 training sessions. Even during the follow up session 6 weeks later, 69% of participants attended. Additionally, participants enjoyed the program, rating the training an average of 8.1 out of 10 for overall usefulness of the program, and rated all three components very highly.
These preliminary results are very promising, demonstrating that the program is feasible, acceptable and effective in improving physical and mental measures of stress. Most notably, participants had a decreased risk of dropout from work due to illness, as well as an increased work productivity following the intervention, which continued to improve into the 6-month assessment. This study is a promising stepping stone to implementing the “Mindful2Work” intervention in work-related stress cases.
Related Article: Everyday Tips To Be More Mindful
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Wolever, R. Q., Bobinet, K. J.,McCabe, K., Mackenzie, E. R., Fekete, E., Kusnick, C. A., et al. (2012). Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17, 246.
de Bruin, E. I., Formsma, A. R., Frijstein, G., Bögels, S. M. (2017). Mindful2Work: Effects of Combined Physical Exercise, Yoga, and Mindfulness Meditations for Stress Relieve in Employees. A Proof of Concept Study. Mindfulness, 8, 204-217.
Goyal, M., Singh, S., Siginga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R. et al. (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368.
Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J. Bell, I., Schwartz, G. E. R. (2007). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation Versus Relaxation Training: Effects on Distress, Positive States of Mind, Rumination, and Distraction. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33(1), 11-21.
Granath, J., Ingvarsson, S., von Thiele, U., Lundberg, U. (2006). Stress management: a randomized study of cognitive behavioural therapy and yoga. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 35, 3–10.
Conn, V. S. (2010a). Anxiety outcomes after physical activity interventions. Nursing Research, 59, 224–231.
Conn, V. S. (2010b). Depressive symptom outcomes of physical activity interventions: meta-analysis findings. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 39, 128–138.
Hanson, J. (2011). Relax and renew: restful yoga for stressful times. Berkeley: Rodmell Press.
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