This article courtesy of Michelle Lynch at Reading Eagle, shared here for our clients’ ease of access.
With the coronavirus outbreak wreaking havoc, medical professionals and support staff are under increased pressure and added stress, said Dr. William J. Heran, the co-founder and CEO of Providence Treatment, a Philadelphia-based addiction treatment center.
“Health care professionals are at the forefront of providing care and putting themselves at risk of infection,” Heran said. “There are no therapeutics, no known protocols. We are involved with a virus that we do not have the ability to get rid of right now, and it is a deadly virus for some.”
The situation can be emotionally crippling, he said.
To help those on the frontlines manage stress and anxiety in a healthy way, Caron Treatment Centers, based in South Heidelberg Township, joined Providence to offer a free mindfulness support group, using the GoToMeeting app.
Mindfulness is the process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring at that moment.
“The mind often projects to the future or delves into the past,” said Christopher O’Reilly, executive director of Caron’s Breakthrough and Family Services programs. “By bringing the mind into the present, you can alleviate two-thirds of the stress.”
The Caron-Providence program is based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts and is open to all hospital and health care professionals working with COVID-19 patients.
The weekly online sessions will run on Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. through June. Health care workers are invited to drop in as they are able. No register is required.
“This isn’t a gripe session,” Heran said. “It is about how to develop a practice of mindful meditation during very unclear and uncertain times. The emphasis is not meditation for meditation’s sake. It is meditation to decrease stress.”
Mindfulness has become popular, partly due to the extensive science supporting its effectiveness, said O’Reilly, who blogs on the subject.
Kabat-Zinn’s program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, has shown that people who better manage their stress are more likely to keep a disease in remission, heal from surgery or recover from sickness, he said.
“Our goal is to introduce people to mindfulness practice, the idea of incorporating five to 10 minutes of your day to focus on your breathing and focus on reducing your stress,” Heran said. “Our hope is that more and more people will be introduced to mindfulness.”
A key component for the individual practicing mindfulness is to pay attention to the body and notice if there is tension in the shoulders and neck or tightness in the chest, O’Reilly said.
“Become more aware of how stress is living in your body,” he said. “Stress is more than just thoughts, it is all sorts of bodily sensations.”
Chronic stress has a negative effect on overall wellness, he said.
It weakens the immune system, making the stressed person more susceptible to illness and disease. It can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, outbursts of anger and major health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes or substances abuse.
Health care workers are particularly vulnerable, partly because they are so engaged in helping others and less focused on taking care of themselves, O’Reilly said.
Their high-stress jobs can put them at a higher risk for mental health and substance abuse disorders, and the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic only increases their vulnerability, Karen Pasternack, Caron’s senior director of media relations, said, noting Caron offers a health care professionals program that addresses the specialized needs of those who provide care for others.
“We are providing the virtual support group so they can understand about stress and self-care,” O’Reilly said. “Just because someone joins the support group, it doesn’t mean that they are weak or can’t handle the stress. It is just a way to put more tools in your tool bag.”