Meditation and exercise can relieve teacher stress

K-12 teachers who combined meditation and aerobic exercise for as little as two hours a week early in the COVID-19 pandemic suffered less anxiety, depression and general stress, according to a Rutgers neuroscientist .

A new study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that a combination of mental and physical training including meditation and aerobic exercise significantly reduced anxiety and depressive and negative thoughts among Northeastern United States teachers who participated in the study. The exercises were performed for one hour twice a week, over a period of six weeks.

“In this study, we focused on the ongoing stress and trauma that many people experienced during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tracey Shortsprofessor emeritus at Department of Psychology and Collaborative Neuroscience Center to Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences-New Brunswick “It was a particularly scary time because many people were getting sick and dying and yet there were no vaccines or even much knowledge about the virus.”

“Not knowing what would happen in the next school year left teachers under extraordinary stress,” she said.

Two years later, educators across the country say a nationwide teacher shortage is in crisis. A June Gallup poll found that 44% of K-12 teachers often or always feel burnt out, compared to 30% of all other workers.

“We started the study when most primary and secondary teachers were out of school over the summer, but were growing increasingly anxious about returning to class in the fall.” , said Shorts. “They didn’t know if they could keep their students or themselves safe and feared teaching children online with little experience or support for this new form of education. For many, there are still fears.

Shors has developed MAP (mental and physical) training for people with depression, trauma and stress-related symptoms and has studied its effects on different groups, including women who have been sexually assaulted, women living with HIV and homeless women.

This recent study, which focused on 71 teachers, 58 who completed the mental and physical training and 13 who did not, was the first time the research was conducted virtually, with participants accessing the classroom through Zoom.

Shors and PhD student Docia Demmin started each lesson with a “brain piece” – a short piece of information about the brain that teachers could use to help them stay focused and motivated. This is followed by a simple but demanding form of meditation for 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of very slow walking meditation and then 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

After six weeks, teachers reported significantly less anxiety and depression as well as fewer negative thoughts, Shors said. They reported less secondary traumatic stress, which was likely related to their worries about the pandemic and how it was affecting their students and loved ones, she said.

“They said they slept better and felt more cognitively flexible with better control over their thought processes,” Shors said. “They felt less work-related stress with greater self-compassion. Overall, this relatively short intervention improved their mental health and overall well-being.

Shors, who is the author of a book Everyday Trauma, says it’s important to understand how the brain responds to trauma – whether it’s an unexpected event like a violent attack, a car accident or a natural disaster or trauma that may last longer such as a chronic illness. a disease, discrimination or a pandemic like the one we have been facing for more than two years.

“It helps to understand how the brain reacts to these two forms of trauma and how they affect the physical structure of our brain,” Shors said. “Because once we do, we’re more likely to engage in lifestyles and activities that can lessen the damage and, in some cases, prevent it from happening in the first place.”

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