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Mindfulness helps people face stress head on


Since 2004, Maryanna Klatt’s Mindfulness in Motion program has empowered people to stand up to daily stress.

It’s a program that’s become increasingly important and popular this past year.

“COVID-19 unveiled we don’t have the same level of control that we think we do,” said Klatt, professor of clinical family and community medicine at Ohio State. “How do you deal with constant change? That’s where mindfulness helps.”

Increasingly, we need all the help we can get. Nationwide statistics on stress are staggering. According to the American Institute of Stress, more than 70% of Americans experience stress that impacts their physical and mental health.

“Human stress is universal,” Klatt said. “But it’s how you respond to it that matters.”

Klatt helps people become resilient. In the years since creating Mindfulness in Motion, Klatt has continued to hone the program while researching and validating its benefits.

The results are fairly staggering in their own right.

What have your studies shown about Mindfulness in Motion?

We get a 27% drop in burnout from the beginning to the end of the eight weeks. But we also see a significant drop in perceived stress and a highly significant rise in both work engagement and resilience.

And the latest research shows those numbers are sustained beyond a year. That’s a really positive thing because for some resiliency programs that’s not the case.

You’ve done studies with those in the health care field specifically, right?

We did a study of a surgical intensive care unit (at Ohio State). We had a 40% drop in salivary alpha-amaylase, which is a marker of sympathetic nervous system activation (the fight or flight response). That means the stress wasn’t going to change; what changed was their response to the stress, so they experienced it differently.

That’s what mindfulness can help people do. It doesn’t take the stresses away. It is being able to stand in the stresses of your life and not let them totally run you over.

Have the studies been any different this year with the pandemic?

We had to go 100% virtual, and I wasn’t sure I’d get the same results. But the results were exactly the same.

So in a certain sense, COVID has helped me see this is a scalable program because I’ve never wanted to go virtual. Now I see if I’m getting the same results, that’s ridiculous not to offer a virtual option.  

I work with cancer survivors, so, doing this virtually, cancer survivors who can’t get to in-person intervention could connect virtually and get the benefits.

That’s my next move, to scale it to be available for more populations.

Another way you extend it into more populations is by training people to deliver it to their own community, right?

That’s true. I like the train-the-trainer model because if a trainer comes from a community, they can help me adjust the program in an appropriate way for that community. We’ve been doing it since the program started but we really have it down now.

Ohio State has a real opportunity to spread it outside our walls and help a lot of people.

My whole focus for the next year is, again, to scale the train-the-trainer program because that’s the power of this. We want to take it out to businesses, law firms, municipalities that would like to provide their employees with resiliency building and increase employee well-being.

Who has already benefited from this train-the-trainer model?

We have doctors who have been trained, nurse practitioners, psychologists, medical students, physical therapists, for example. We also have a trainer who delivers it to a cancer survivor group.

Recently, the Ohio Hospital Association sponsored three health systems across Ohio so we could train them to deliver it at their own health systems. There’s also a health system in Michigan that is doing it. They’re all going through it now. It’s been fabulous to work with them. I’ve loved it.

We even had someone from Denmark I trained through a research study. He went back and did it at the second largest bank in Scandinavia, in Copenhagen, and we got the same results.

We don’t have the same level of control that we think we do. How do you deal with constant change? That’s where mindfulness helps.

Maryanna Klatt, Ohio State Professor of Clinical Family and Community Medicine
Any other communities you’ve seen success working with?

We did a study with third-graders in the Columbus City Schools system. I was looking for increase in focus, which we did get that, but there was a significant difference in hyperactivity. The teachers loved it because students were more attentive.

I have a class for college students called the Mindful College Student for freshmen to give them these skills early to apply to their college career.

We did a research study for people with multiple sclerosis (in Minnesota) and got good results there. There’s a pulmonary fellow (at Ohio State) who’s going to start delivering it for people with breathing problems as part of their pulmonary rehab.

We also worked with employees from the City of Dublin. I really enjoyed that. The mayor was there, people who cut the grass were there, people from all walks of life who all contributed to the same work place. I also worked with the City of Columbus with those in refuse collection, and I loved working with them.

It’s the pragmatic nature of the program that’s the biggest contribution and its ability to be tweaked for any population.

What are some tips you’d offer to people if they wanted to get started with this? Maybe a couple takeaways they could use today?

Pay attention to what your body is telling you. It can be a huge source of information.

If you are stressed you are probably breathing very shallow. Utilize that knowledge, breathe slower and deeper and see if your stress level changes at all.

Be open to what is happening right now, rather than wishing it were different. That is a sure way to miss your life. Our lives are made up of moments, so we need to pay attention to the reality of them.

Looking to try some of Klatt’s mindfulness practices? The following two-minute videos were developed for people dealing with anxiety and stress associated with COVID-19. Try them the next time you need to reset.

Climbing the COVID Mountain

Pause and Reset

You Can Do This