May Mindfulness and Workplace Wellness Research Round-Up

BL00 - Mindfulness and Workplace Wellness Research Round-Up

By The Mindful Leader Team

This month, we investigate the effectiveness of MBSR in treating anxiety as well as in helping parents of children with autism manage stress. Then, we see what the American Heart Association has to say about the link between psychological and cardiovascular health before looking at the findings of two major surveys on mental health in the workplace: SHRM’s research and Headspace’s Fifth Annual Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health report. We have summarized the main ideas and key takeaways below with links to the full articles.

Can Mindfulness Reduce Anxiety as Well as a Drug?    

The results of a new peer-reviewed published study indicate that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is equally effective as Lexapro in treating anxiety. In the study, 276 patients with an anxiety disorder were randomly assigned to receive eight weeks of treatment with Lexapro, a popular anti-anxiety drug, or with an eight-week course of MBSR in which they were taught a variety of meditation techniques and encouraged to meditate daily at home. Patients reported feelings of anxiousness and side effects both during the treatment period and for six months afterward. At the end of the eight weeks, both groups demonstrated an equal reduction in their symptoms of anxiety. Although patients were not required to continue with MBSR, Lexapro, or any specific form of treatment after the eight weeks, the initial effects persisted after six months of follow-up in both groups.

Key Points:

  • Both MBSR and Lexapro reduced anxiety symptoms equally, yet MBSR had much fewer side effects; Only 5% of patients receiving MBSR training reported side effects compared to 79% of patients treated with Lexapro. 
  • After six months of follow-up, both Lexapro and MBSR had essentially the same long-term outcome for treating anxiety in patients. However, more research is needed to confirm the lasting, longitudinal effects of each treatment method.
  • The lead author of the study, psychiatrist Elizabeth Hoge, believes her study points to the value of MBSR as a viable treatment option for anxiety (one that ought to be covered by insurance), but cautions that it requires work and dedication and that the same benefit may not necessarily be attained simply through mindfulness apps.

Read the full article on Greater Good Science Center; Find the published study on JAMA Psychiatry.

Mindfulness Approach Helps Ease the Stress of Parenting a Child With Autism    

Multiple studies have shown that parents of children with autism tend to have especially high-stress levels. To date, most therapies and services available to support children with autism fail to specifically address the stress experienced by parents. A new study led by Rachel Fenning sought to address this shortcoming by teaching parents of children with autism a particular approach to coping in a healthier manner, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). To determine the effectiveness of MBSR specifically, participants were randomly assigned to learn MBSR or receive a general educational and support service. For both groups, as parents’ stress levels decreased, their child’s emotional regulation improved.

Key Points:

  • Although both groups reported less stress a year after the study, this reduction was significantly stronger among parents who learned MBSR.
  • Similarly, in another study, the research team found that parents of young children with autism (aged three and under) who learned MBSR reported higher reductions in stress and better interactions with their children.
  • Importantly, the study authors note that mindfulness practices can be integrated into your current routine, such as giving your full attention to making dinner.

Read the full article on NBC.

Mental wellness is important for a healthy heart and brain    

A healthy heart and brain require more than just a healthy body — it also requires a healthy mind, and connection that’s now directly confirmed by the American Heart Association. To support this position, they point to numerous scientific studies identifying a link between psychological health and cardiovascular health. Negative psychological health, including mental health conditions like anxiety, stress, and depression, can lead to an irregular heart rate or rhythm or increased blood pressure and inflammation. Similarly, poor emotional and mental well-being is often associated with behaviors that lead to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and lower activity levels. The risk of negative health outcomes is even higher for people of color as a result of chronic stress, depression, and anxiety linked to social and economic inequality, discrimination, and racism. Conversely, positive psychological health is linked with beneficial health behaviors, stronger positive social relationships, and better handling of stress.

Key Points:

  • Practicing mindfulness-based interventions like meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to decrease anxiety, stress, and depression, and lower one’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • In addition to a meditation practice, some other things you can do to boost your psychological (and physical) health include:
    • Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night
    • Connecting regularly with friends and loved ones
    • Practicing mindful movement
    • Exercising regularly (aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a mix)
    • Hanging with a furry four-legged pet

Read the full article on American Heart Association.

SHRM Research: Work Is Negatively Impacting Employees’ Mental Health

The research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research is in: work is taking a significant toll on the mental health of employees, and workers want their employers to start addressing it. According to the survey findings, 1 in 3 U.S. employees report that their job has had a negative impact on their mental health in the past six months, and just about half (45%) now have higher expectations for the level of mental health support their workplace should provide as compared to a year ago. 59% say their workplace does not offer enough resources for mental health. In line with SHRM’s findings, the insurance company Metlife found that holistic health is trending downwards with over 65% of U.S. workers at moderate or high risk of mental health issues. However, the workplace can also positively impact mental health too, although this was typically reported among older generation workers like Baby Boomers and Traditionalists.

Key Points:

  • One of the most desired forms of support employees want to see offered is paid mental health days above and beyond sick days (58%). Additionally, there was strong interest in more mental health accommodations, including paid or unpaid time off, flexible scheduling, and mindfulness or yoga classes.
  • Employers need to address growing concerns over mental health support in the workplace, or they risk their employees leaving. Employees who reported their job having a negative impact on their mental health were more than twice as likely to be actively searching for a new job than those who reported a neutral or positive impact. 
  • Similarly, research has shown that employees with negative mental health are less likely to be productive and healthy. Boosting mental health among workers can lead to greater productivity in the workplace.

Read the full article on SHRM Research.

New Headspace Research Finds Productivity Pressure Is Driving Dread at Work  

Earlier this month, Headspace released its Fifth Annual Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health report with compiled findings from a global survey of more than 400 CEOs, 4000 workers, and 250 HR leaders across the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Germany. Although nearly half (49%) of workers reported feeling a sense of dread at least once a week, 59% of CEOs reported feeling more dread on a weekly basis than their employees. What’s driving this workplace doom and gloom? For CEOs, it’s largely economic uncertainty (61%), which is also responsible for high levels of fear among workers. As for the sense of dread among workers, it seems to primarily stem from constant feelings of unpredictability at work, feeling overwhelmed by expectations to take on more responsibilities, and fear of not being able to meet higher expectations. HR leaders are also experiencing burnout from their emotional caregiving responsibilities in the workplace.

Key Points:

  • While feelings of dread are dominating workplaces, feelings about mental health are becoming more aligned among CEOs and workers. Russell Glass, CEO of Headspace, notes that companies need to ensure robust mental health support in the workplace, and that includes ensuring leaders are also taking care of their own mental health. 
  • HR leaders can help set the tone throughout the organization by prioritizing their own mental health and guiding others at the company to do the same.

Read the full article on Business Wire.


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