A new study published in the Journal of Occupational Health looked at physical relaxation for occupational stress in healthcare workers in a systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
"Our study evaluates various physical methods of relaxation (yoga, massage therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, and stretching exercises) on their effectiveness in reducing work-related stress in healthcare workers,” study author Michael Zhang told us. “We were hoping to find out just how effective these methods are, both as a group as well as individually to see which method is the most effective".
The theory was that overall, these techniques would indeed lower work-related stress. Individual smaller studies involving these techniques have definitely shown a benefit, but researchers did not know which method might be the most beneficial.
"We thought that this topic would be especially relevant today given the stressful environments confronting healthcare workers everywhere in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” study author Brittany Murphy told us. “We want to bring attention to the importance of recognizing work-related stress and maintaining mental wellbeing in the face of these challenges. It's not just healthcare workers that are vulnerable. Pandemic-related stress can affect anyone, and we want to emphasize that there are many different options available for stress relief for those who need it.”
According to a survey conducted by Mental Health America, during COVID-19, 93% of healthcare workers experienced stress, 86% said they experienced anxiety, and over 75% said they were frustrated, were feeling burnt out, exhausted and overwhelmed.
Healthcare workers with children said that they feared they would expose their children to COVID-19. Almost half of healthcare workers surveyed said they were scared of transmitting COVID-19 to their partner and over 45% said they were worried about exposing COVID-19 to elderly family members.
Emotional exhaustion was a frequent answer given for the survey among healthcare workers. Over 80% of healthcare workers felt emotionally exhausted followed by trouble with sleep, physical exhaustion and work-related dread. Many said they also developed appetite changes, headaches, and stomachaches. Many began wondering if they had chosen the right profession, and they also experienced compassion fatigue. Nurses reported having a higher exposure to COVID-19 and they were more likely to feel fatigued compared to other healthcare workers.
The current study conducted is called a meta-analysis. This is where results of earlier smaller studies are pooled together to determine an overall effect. Researchers used special statistical techniques to accomplish this. This also allows researchers to compare individual studies each evaluating a different relaxation method against one another, to see which one is the most effective.
"We found that overall, these methods of physical relaxation indeed reduced work-related stress in healthcare workers,” Zhang told us. “Additionally, when compared against each other, we found that yoga was the most beneficial".
The main surprise researchers found was just how quickly these methods worked. They found that they were effective in stress reduction after as little as three weeks of practice, and this was seen in both males and females.
"Our results emphasize the importance of recognizing work-related stress and taking steps to reduce its effects,” Murphy told us. “Protecting the mental wellbeing of workers, in the healthcare field or otherwise, should be a priority for everyone. We note that many methods of stress reduction are available to meet individual needs".
Researchers highlighted the unique practical benefits of yoga over the other methods of relaxation. Because yoga can be performed at home virtually using online platforms, social distancing from others can be maintained in a safe environment. Additionally, a variety of tele-yoga platforms are already available which can be used anywhere at any time for stress relief.
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com