Effectiveness of a Multimodal Mindfulness Program to Alleviate Graduate Student Stress
Purpose/Hypothesis: School-related stress and anxiety have been found to be problematic in graduate health care programs in medicine, dentistry, nursing, physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT). One in 6 college students report anxiety levels that negatively impact functioning in school. There is substantial evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness training in reducing college students’ stress. Most of these programs involve non-active meditative practices versus active and non-active combinations. The purpose of this pilot study was to develop and assess a multimodal mindfulness activity program for PT and OT first year graduate students intended to teach better management of stressors impacting educational performance. Number of Subjects: 36 Materials and Methods: Eighteen consented volunteers were randomly assigned to the intervention group and eighteen to the control group. The intervention group participated in an 8-week multimodal mindfulness program occurring in person once a week for 40 minutes. A health service staff trained in mindfulness coordinated the interventions. Examples of the in person sessions included yoga, sound therapy, addiction management strategies and self-compassion tool kit. On their own four 10-minute online mindfulness activities were completed per week. Additionally, before and after each session, students rated their stress level using a Likert scale and wrote open-ended narrative responses. Students also filled out an open-ended qualitative questionnaire pre and post study. Both groups were asked to complete the perceived stress scale (PSS), a student stress management scale questionnaire (SSMS), grade point average (GPA), number of counseling sessions attended, pre and post study. Results: Post intervention, statistically significant decreases, with large effect sizes, were found in both PSS and SSMS in the intervention group compared to the control group. There were no significant differences noted in GPA or number of counseling session post intervention. Daily logs for in person sessions also demonstrated statistically significant decreases, with large effect sizes, for the intervention group. Qualitative data identified eight themes including greater sleep quality, energy levels, self-compassion, and life-work balance. Conclusions: The study findings support that a multimodal mindfulness activity program can effectively decrease students’ rated stress after the entire 8-week program and after each in person session. Clinical Relevance: Stress and anxiety levels are on the rise in graduate school programs and effective methods to assist students with these issues are needed. This study provides a step toward understanding how a collaborative mindfulness-based program within graduate school education can help students cope with stress management. Our program design and results provide a foundation for further studies to determine what mindfulness types of interventions can be most effectively implemented to best meet the individual needs of each student as well as within each academic discipline.