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How Can Caregivers Relieve Stress? Try Mindfulness

How Can Caregivers Relieve Stress? Try Mindfulness

January 08, 2014

It’s no secret that caregivers face a number of challenges on a daily basis. From the physical toll of working long hours to the mental stress of the job’s demands, people who provide support for residents of senior assisted living are often selfless in their approach to addressing others’ needs. New studies published in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, however, offer some insight as to techniques that can help alleviate mental and emotional strain.

Nurse with hands up to face, looking stressed
The Benefits of Mindfulness
The study reassessed research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn created the process of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. According to Kabat-Zinn’s technique, pausing to take in one’s immediate surroundings can help reduce stress and increase calmness, even in times of mental duress.

“Mindfulness is defined as a self-directed practice for relaxing the body and calming the mind through focusing on present-moment awareness,” wrote researchers with UnitedHealth Group, which re-examined the MBSR methodology.

In their experiment, scientists collected data from 41 nurses, all of whom worked for a large health care company. Over an eight-week period, they were given instruction as to how to practice mindfulness techniques. This included a variety of options, such as yoga, meditation, stretching, facilitated group discussion, work assignments and personalized support. At three checkpoints – two weeks before the study, immediately afterward and four months later – researchers surveyed participants about their mood and stress levels. They reported that data suggests an improvement in psychological well-being for individuals who practice MBSR regularly as compared to those who did not.

Learning Techniques
Although scientists said more research is needed to prove a link between such practices and a broader population, they voiced optimism that the study would lead to new emphasis on decreasing stress with mindfulness.

“This is a universal practice and can be utilized by a variety of clinical and non-clinical populations as well as by a variety of professions,” said lead researcher Dawn Bazarko of UnitedHealth Group. “Health care workers present as a primary target audience due to the nature of their work and the impact that mindfulness can have on patient care and the creation of safer, higher-quality care environments.

Even without professional guidance, caregivers can still utilize mindfulness techniques in their daily lives to encourage stability and keep from feeling overwhelmed. The Huffington Post defined mindfulness as helping to make mind “wandering” more proactive. Although it sounds simple, when people are overwhelmed and trying to balance a large number of thoughts at the same time, being mindful may take a great deal of trial and error.

Mindfulness in Steps
The news source looked to researchers at Emory University, who described the method in a three-step process. First, people who are feeling stressed should focus their minds on a single topic that is relevant to their current existence, whether that be their breath or how their body is reacting to the environment around them. Second, they should allow their thought process to wander, but – and this is crucial – recognize this deviance from the intended track and bring it back again. Finally, they should re-focus their minds on the original subject matter. By repeating this cycle, the brain can be trained to remain fixated on the desired quality, building concentration and strengthening the brain.

Methods like these can be done in conjunction with physical exercises such as those mentioned above, including yoga, stretching or any sort of gentle movement. However, mindfulness can also be practiced by the individual when totally inactive, sitting or even standing. Caregivers with busy schedules, for instance, may benefit from taking short but regular breaks during which time they try these techniques. It is important to remember that if difficulty persists in spite of self-initiated efforts to decrease stress, people should contact a licensed professional who can provide customized care.

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