Stress-management interventions may help individual healthcare workers for at least a year

A recent study found that helping healthcare workers deal with work-related stress can improve their stress-coping abilities for up to a year. The study is a review of previous research and builds on a 2015 study that found similar results. The research suggests that interventions such as cognitive behavioural training (CBT) and mental and physical relaxation techniques can be helpful in reducing stress levels for healthcare workers.

The study reviewed 117 research studies that looked at how different interventions could help reduce stress. Out of these studies, 89 were new and published between 2013 and 2022. The studies involved 11,119 healthcare workers from around the world who were randomly assigned to different interventions, and their stress levels were assessed using questionnaires. The researchers looked at the effects of these interventions on stress symptoms in the short-term (up to three months after an intervention ended), medium-term (between three and 12 months), and long-term (more than a year after the intervention).

The Cochrane review analyzed interventions aimed at reducing stress in individual healthcare workers. These interventions could either focus on dealing with stress or diverting attention away from it. The interventions included cognitive behavioural training, communication skills, assertiveness training, relaxation, mindfulness meditation, exercise, massage, acupuncture, and listening to music. The review aimed to determine if any of these interventions were better than no intervention in reducing stress levels.

The healthcare workers who participated in the studies were feeling stressed and burnt out, but their levels of stress were not severe. This stress can cause physical symptoms like headaches or muscle tension, as well as mental symptoms like depression, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating, and can also affect relationships.

Sietske Tamminga, who was in charge of the study and is an assistant professor in public and occupational health at Amsterdam University Medical Centre, said that healthcare workers frequently face stressful and emotional situations in their jobs. They may encounter patient suffering, pressure from relationships with patients, family members, and employers, as well as high work demands and long working hours.

Sietske Tamminga, who led the research, said that healthcare workers face a lot of stress and emotional challenges in their work, such as dealing with patient care, human suffering, and high work demands. The study found that individual-level interventions such as cognitive behavior training, exercise, and listening to music can help healthcare workers reduce their stress levels. This could be beneficial not only for healthcare workers but also for the patients they care for and the organizations they work for. The effect of these interventions may last up to a year, and a combination of interventions may be beneficial in the short term. Tamminga suggests that employers should offer a range of stress interventions for their employees, but it remains unknown whether the effects of stress management interventions last in the long term.

The researchers say that larger, better-quality studies are needed to look at both the short- and long-term effects of individual level interventions in order to increase the certainty of the evidence.

Dr Tamminga suggests that more research is needed on interventions that target work-related risk factors at both individual and organisational levels. While individual-level interventions can be helpful in reducing stress, improving working conditions could have a more significant impact in the long-term. Employers could address issues such as understaffing, overwork, and shift patterns to prevent stress and burnout in healthcare workers. Rather than just treating the symptoms, it is important to address the underlying risk factors to bring about lasting change.

The research has several limitations. Firstly, the estimates of the effects of individual-level stress management interventions may not be entirely reliable due to a lack of blinding of the participants in the studies included in the review. Additionally, many of the studies were small, which could affect the strength of the findings. Finally, there were too few studies that focused on specific factors that can cause stress in the workplace, which limits the generalizability of the results.

The Cochrane review is unique because it provides a comprehensive overview of different types of interventions aimed at reducing stress in various healthcare workers. Previous research has focused on specific types of interventions in specific groups of healthcare workers.

Dr Tamminga concluded: “There is already a shortage of healthcare workers due to high turnover rates, and effective prevention of stress and burnout may help to reduce this.”

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