Breath-centered virtual mind-body medicine reduces COVID-related stress in women healthcare workers of the Regional Integrated Support for Education in Northern Ireland: a single group study

Author: Patricia L Gerbarg1, Felicity Dickson2, Vincent A Conte3, Richard P Brown4
1 Department of Psychiatry, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY, United States.
2 Regional Integrated Support for Education, Belfast, United Kingdom.
3 Management Department, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, United States.
4 Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY, United States.
Conference/Journal: Front Psychiatry
Date published: 2023 Jun 12
Other: Volume ID: 14 , Pages: 1199819 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1199819. , Word Count: 352

During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers endured prolonged stress affecting their psychological well-being. Objectives: (1) Evaluate the effects of the Breath-Body-Mind Introductory Course (BBMIC) on COVID-related stress among employees of the Regional Integrated Support for Education, Northern Ireland, (2) Reduce the risk of adverse effects from COVID-related stress, and (3) Evaluate the effects of BBMIC on indicators of psychophysiological states and the consistency with hypothesized mechanisms of action.

In this single group study, a convenience sample of 39 female healthcare workers completed informed consent and baseline measures: Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), Stress Overload Scale-Short (SOS-S), and Exercise-Induced Feelings Inventory (EFI). Following the online BBMIC 4 h/day for 3 days and the 6 week solo (20 min/day) and group practice (45 min weekly), repeat testing plus the Indicators of Psychophysiological State (IPSS) and Program Evaluation were obtained.

Baseline (T1) mean PSS score was significantly elevated compared to a normative sample: PSS = 18.2 vs. 13.7 (p < 0.001) and improved significantly 11 weeks post-BBMIC (T4). SOS-S mean score declined from 10.7(T1) to 9.7 at 6 week post-test (T3). The SOS-S proportion of High Risk scores found in 22/29 participants (T1), dropped to 7/29 (T3). EFI mean subscale scores improved significantly from T1 to T2 and T3 for Revitalization (p < 0.001); Exhaustion (p < 0.002); and Tranquility (p < 0.001); but not Engagement (p < 0.289).

Among RISE NI healthcare workers affected by COVID-related stress, participation in the BBMIC significantly reduced scores for Perceived Stress, Stress Overload, and Exhaustion. EFI Revitalization and Tranquility scores significantly improved. More than 60% of participants reported moderate to very strong improvements in 22 indicators of psychophysiological state, e.g., tension, mood, sleep, mental focus, anger, connectedness, awareness, hopefulness, and empathy. These results are consistent with the hypothesized mechanisms of action whereby voluntarily regulated breathing exercises change interoceptive messaging to brain regulatory networks that shift psychophysiological states of distress and defense to states of calmness and connection. These positive findings warrant validation in larger, controlled studies to extend the understanding of how breath-centered Mind-body Medicine practices could mitigate adverse effects of stress.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; autonomic nervous system; breathing exercises; children with disabilities; healthcare workers; mind-body medicine; occupational stress; psychological stress.

PMID: 37377478 PMCID: PMC10291294 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1199819