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The Hidden Toll: Navigating Through Mental Health Challenges among Critical Care Professionals

Healthcare workers perform a critical role vital to patient health and safety. While doing work to the highest standard of their ability is a priority for most of them, they are also exposed to incessant stress. It can not only impact their decision-making severely but also lead to physician burnout and complex mental health challenges […]

Healthcare workers perform a critical role vital to patient health and safety. While doing work to the highest standard of their ability is a priority for most of them, they are also exposed to incessant stress. It can not only impact their decision-making severely but also lead to physician burnout and complex mental health challenges in the long term. Among healthcare professionals, those working in intensive care units and critical care face some of the most significant stresses, as per various studies.
Critical care staff are regularly exposed to high workloads, constant time-related pressures, and the emotional toll of dealing with critically ill patients. The frequent death and suffering they witness can lead to severe negative emotional responses. Additionally, they grapple with moral and ethical dilemmas, experience reduced social support at work, and face uncertainty regarding patient treatments. This increases the likelihood of mental health challenges among them.

How yoga-based modalities impact physician burnout, anxiety and depression
Long working hours are a requirement in healthcare, with the timings often extending beyond the typical 9-5 workweek. Research has shown that depression prevalence among healthcare workers ranges from 21.53% to 32.7% in high-income nations, significantly higher than the general population worldwide. Burnout and depression among healthcare workers have detrimental effects on the healthcare system. Some of these include patient dissatisfaction, high turnover rates, increased medical errors, and associated financial costs.
One promising approach to mitigating these mental health challenges is the integration of yoga-based non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical approaches rooted in the Indian Knowledge System.

Breathwork
As a practice, breathwork modalities can influence autonomic nervous system function, including vagal tone, through voluntary control of breathing patterns. A recent clinical trial found that four weeks of breathwork reduced measures of psychopathology in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Another study reported significant improvements in psychological and physical symptoms after six weeks – when practicing a combination of breathwork, whole-body movements, and meditation. Psychophysiologically, the reduction in depression symptoms following breathwork is associated with reduced cortisol levels. For instance, abdominal breathing may serve as a complex bridge linking the autonomic and central nervous system – that ultimately leads to decreased depression and anxiety symptoms.
Given the demanding nature of their work, healthcare professionals can benefit from even brief sessions of focused breathwork and meditative practices. When practiced regularly, these techniques can support the often-neglected muscles in the upper body, abdominal, and pelvic regions, strengthening the core. They can accelerate physical and emotional decongestion, relax the nervous system, reduce stress, and enhance brain function, including sharper memory recall and faster reaction times.

Cognitive stimulation
This process promotes flexible and adaptive neural mechanisms, achieving mental agility while reducing anxiety and insomnia. Meditative practices can help in cultivating a resilient and adaptable mental state. Even a few minutes of yoga-based meditative practices each day can improve mental clarity and emotional stability.
Releasing stress, negative emotions, and harmful behavioural patterns is crucial for emotional health. Practices involving emotional stimulation and positive affirmations can help reduce symptoms of advanced mental health conditions, and promote a state of equanimity. Positive selective memory processing further aids in emotional rehabilitation, cultivating a sense of balance and well-being.
Implementing holistic approaches in healthcare settings not only improves the mental health of caregivers but also supports global economic development. These practices empower healthcare professionals to progress beyond survival mode, helping them thrive in their demanding roles. This translates to better patient care, reduced absenteeism, and lower turnover rates among healthcare staff, contributing to a more efficient and effective healthcare system. By integrating yogic practices, healthcare professionals can improve their resilience and mental health. This will further enable them to provide the highest quality of care for their patients while maintaining their own well-being.
Dr Ishan Shivanand, mental health researcher and the Founder of Yoga of Immortals

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Critical Care ProfessionalsMental HealthTDGThe Daily Guardian