Feeling stressed? Overloaded? There's an app to help with that.

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

High levels of work stress have major implications on a person’s daily life leading to job strain, which is associated with worse mental and physical health. To address stress and job strain among professionals at go-go workplaces, researchers examined the effects of a mindfulness meditation program using the Headspace app on smartphones.

Physician burnout demands urgent action

The AMA is leading the national effort to solve the growing physician burnout crisis. We're working to eliminate the dysfunction in health care by removing the obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care.

Headspace is a meditation and sleep app that can have a positive impact on health professionals' personal and professional lives. 

Authors of the study published in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, “Mindfulness On-The-Go: Effects of a Mindfulness Meditation App on Work Stress and Well-Being,” examined well-being and mood, symptoms of anxiety and depression, job strain and workday blood pressure among healthy employed adults over one working day while using Headspace. 

The study was conducted among employees at the tech giant Google and the British medical firm Roche. Over eight weeks, 238 employees used the Headspace app to practice mindfulness meditation. The results showed that after using Headspace, employees had a 46% reduction in symptoms of depression and a 31% drop in anxiety symptoms.

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“Practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes has been shown to reduce your overall perceived stress level and how overwhelmed you feel in the moment,” said co-author of the study Alexandra D. Crosswell, PhD, an assistant professor in the psychiatry department at the University of California, San Francisco.

Listening to brief mindfulness meditations nearly daily for two months improved well-being and lowered perceived stress in this working sample of middle-aged adults.

Crosswell emphasizes that the idea is for physicians and others to learn a tool to access when they are overwhelmed. If mindfulness meditation is practiced every day for a few minutes by listening to the Headspace app as the initial training tool, it helps to develop the skill of being able to focus on the present moment. This is something that does not require 10 minutes—just a few simple breaths.

“What we want to do with these different psychological tools is to help people feel like they have a skill to turn to when they are overwhelmed by their current environment,” she said.

“When you’re in a mindful state, you’re able to see things for what they are, right in the here and now versus letting your mind spin about the future or about the past, which is what our minds tend to do the majority of the time,” Croswell said, adding that this creates a greater sense of control over the current experience.

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Tools for high stress

“When we talk about individual-level psychological interventions like Headspace, we’re really putting the onus on the person to reduce their stress levels,” said Crosswell. “A lot of times the conversation ignores the fact that there are systemic changes that need to happen—in particular in the medical community—that reduces stress levels for everyone.”

Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is currently addressing, issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand and reduce the challenges physicians face. By focusing on factors causing burnout at the system-level, the AMA assesses an organization’s well-being and offers guidance and targeted solutions to support physician well-being and satisfaction. 

“There are systemic changes at higher leadership levels that need to happen to truly reduce physician stress and burnout,” Crosswell said. “A lot of what I want to caution is that Headspace is great for an in-the-moment way to reduce stress, and should be coupled with systemwide changes.”