New research suggests simple ways to help ease burnout

Researchers are looking for new ways to fight burnout, and one possible solution is simpler than you think. A new study says that thinking positively for just a few minutes a day can improve your mental health in the long run.

It could be something nice you did for someone, or something beautiful you saw, like a sunset.

The study focused on people who had been particularly busy over the past two years; healthcare workers.

“Two out of three of our colleagues are drowning right now and they need a life preserver,” said Dr. Brian Sexton, director of the Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality.

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Workers, left, change their medical gloves as people are tested for COVID-19 at a rapid testing site in Farragut Square, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, just blocks from the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin/AP Newsroom)

Dr. Sexton was the principal investigator on the study. He says many health care workers feel overwhelmed, especially after two busy years of pandemic care, and now a nasty mix of covid and flu cases.

Create a few educational videos that explain simple ways to think or act in positive ways. The videos are on his EdMedX Youtube channel. Study participants applied the advice to their daily working lives.

“The actual activity can take anywhere from 2 to 7 minutes,” Sexton said.

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A person receives a throat swab from a healthcare worker at a rapid testing site inside the Bismarck Event Center as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Bismarck, North Dakota, US, October 26, 2020. (Reuters/Bing Guan/Reuters Photo)

One lesson encourages you to remember a time when you were in “awe” of a beautiful place.

“Awe expands your sense of time. You’ll feel like you have more time,” he says in one of his YouTube videos.

The idea may sound simple, but the data says it works. The researchers showed the lessons to 480 healthcare workers and then measured their emotional stress in the following months.

After one month, the fatigue improved. The improvement lasted for a year, by which time the study ended.

“I think Dr. Sexton’s work has really helped me add subtle meditations in the middle of all my work,” said Dr. Jenny McPeak Haines, who was involved in the research.

“You don’t have time to take care of yourself,” McPeak Haines said.

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It’s crucial that healthcare workers take care of themselves, Dr. Sexton says, because that stress shouldn’t be passed on to patients.

“Emotional exhaustion is directly related, not only to medication errors, but to delays in providing care, disconnections, disruptive behaviors, and risk-adjusted mortality rates,” Sexton said.

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Although the research is over, Duke is hosting free periodic mental health sessions for all health care workers in the United States. Next courses in January.

Although the study focused on healthcare workers, Sexton says these tools can be applied to any profession, and to anyone who feels overwhelmed.