Improve the Happiness of Healthcare Workers with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Thanks to the rapidly growing science of mindfulness, we are now understanding the seamless interconnectedness of brain, mind, body, experience, and well-being — to say nothing of the contributions to health and well-being that stem from social interconnectedness and environmental/planetary concerns.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations, like healthcare, burnout is all too prevalent. Burnout is the fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, sleep disruption, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout. Currently, over a third of healthcare workers report that they are looking for a new job. It not only affects the healthcare providers personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion. Burnout, in fact, it is a threat to the entire healthcare system as it contributes to the shortage of doctors and nurses.
Preventing burnout has to be a priority. Unfortunately, it is beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress and prevent burnout, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the individual’s responses to stress; to make the individual more resilient when high levels of stress occur. Contemplative practices have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnout, increasing resilience, and improving sleep. Hence, mindfulness may be a means to improve the self-compassion and happiness of healthcare workers and thereby reduce burnout.
In today’s Research News article “Compassion, Mindfulness, and the Happiness of Healthcare Workers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598781/ ), Benzo and colleagues recruited adult healthcare workers and had them complete measures of mindfulness, self-compassion, happiness, relationship status, exercise, perceived stress, and spiritual practice. The data underwent a regression analysis to determine the relationship between the measures.
They found that the higher the levels of exercise and self-compassion, the greater the levels of happiness and the lower the levels of perceived stress. In addition, they found that the higher the levels of coping with isolation and mindfulness the higher the levels of happiness. The association of mindfulness with happiness occurred for the mindfulness component of self-compassion and both the non-judgmental awareness and non-reactivity to emotions.
These results suggest that mindfulness and self-compassion are very important for the happiness of healthcare workers. The most important components of self-compassion appear to be mindfulness and the ability to cope with isolation that is a frequent occurrence with healthcare workers. Being mindfully aware of themselves, non-judgmentally appears to be crucial for happiness of workers this high stress occupation.
Although these results are correlational and causation cannot be determined, prior research has demonstrated that mindfulness training works to improve well-being and reduce burnout, reduce perceived stress, and also increases self-compassion. So, the present results likely reflect an underlying causal connection between mindfulness and the happiness of healthcare workers. This further suggests that mindfulness and self-compassion training should be included in the initial training or continuing education of healthcare workers.
So, improve the happiness of healthcare workers with mindfulness.
“There is increasing evidence that learning to practice mindfulness can result in decreased burnout and improved well-being. Mindfulness is a useful way of cultivating self-kindness and compassion, including by bringing increased awareness to and acceptance of those things that are beyond our control.” – Kate Fitzpatrick
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Benzo, R. P., Kirsch, J. L., & Nelson, C. (2017). Compassion, Mindfulness, and the Happiness of Healthcare Workers. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 13(3), 201-206.
Decreased well-being of health care workers expressed as stress and decreased job satisfaction influences patient safety and satisfaction and cost containment. Self-compassion has garnered recent attention due to its positive association with wellbeing and happiness. Discovering novel pathways to increase the well-being of health care workers is essential.
This study sought to explore the influence of self-compassion on employee happiness in health care professionals.
Design, Setting & Participants
400 participants (mean age 45 ± 14, 65% female) health care workers at a large teaching hospital were randomly asked to complete questionnaires assessing their levels of happiness and self-compassion, life conditions and habits.
Participants completed the Happiness Scale and Self-Compassion Scales, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire as well as variables associated with wellbeing: relationship status, the number of hours spent exercising a week, attendance at a wellness facility and engagement in a regular spiritual practice.
Self-compassion was significantly and independently associated with perceived happiness explaining 39% of its variance after adjusting for age, marital status, gender, time spent exercising and attendance to an exercise facility. Two specific subdomains of self-compassion from the instrument used, coping with isolation and mindfulness, accounted for 95% of the self-compassion effect on happiness.
Self-compassion is meaningfully and independently associated with happiness and well-being in health care professionals. Our results may have practical implications by providing specific self-compassion components to be targeted in future programs aimed at enhancing wellbeing in health care professionals.