Mindfulness app may prevent anxiety, burnout in doctors

New York, April 2 (IANS) As novel coronavirus cases continue to increase, health professionals on the front lines face frightening realities, rising anxiety and the very real potential for burnout, and to deal with such situations, mindfulness app can be helpful, say researchers.

Mindfulness is when people are centred and living in the moment, rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.

“Health care providers are under tremendous pressure right now. Physician burnout was already reaching ‘epidemic’ proportions before this pandemic hit,” said study researcher Jud Brewer from Brown University in the US.

According to the researchers, a 2014 study found that nearly half of all physicians experience significant symptoms of burnout, and further research suggests that the risk is particularly high for those who perceive that they aren’t in control of what unfolds around them.

Theoretically, this perceived lack of control leads to anxiety, which can then lead to burnout, they added.

For the findings, published in the JMIR mHealth and uHealth, the research team worked to address these conditions with a smartphone-app mindfulness training programme called ‘Unwinding Anxiety’.

They examined the app’s effects in a pilot study of 34 physicians. The study was the first to test the effectiveness of an app-based mindfulness program as an intervention for anxiety in physicians.

Digital therapeutics are an ideal solution because people can use them in small doses, at home, on their own schedule,” Brewer said.

“The app-based mindfulness training that we studied does just that: It provides short daily trainings — about 10 minutes per day — that people can access from their smartphone, and it gives them tools they can use throughout the day,” Brewer added.

The app aimed to reduce anxiety by helping users recognise maladaptive thought patterns and become less reactive to anxious thoughts. And it worked.

Three months after using the app for 30 days, participants exhibited a 57 per cent decrease in anxiety scores.

The researchers also found clear links between anxiety and certain aspects of burnout — cynicism and emotional exhaustion — which suggests that the app could effectively treat burnout as well.

Sure enough, at the three-month follow-up, participants exhibited a 50 per cent decrease in cynicism and a 20 per cent decrease in emotional exhaustion.

“These results provide clear implications that this mindfulness-based digital therapeutic may be a useful tool for busy clinicians to both reduce anxiety and help build resilience against getting burnt out,” Brewer said.