Yoga and mindfulness-based therapy can help stressed out employees improve their quality of life

When employees go on sick leave, they are either too physically ill to go to work — or they need to rest for their mental health. A study suggests yoga and mindfulness-based therapies to improve the quality of life of people experiencing burnout.

The study, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, showed that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), or traditional yoga (TY) can help improve the health-related quality of life (HRQoL) of individuals who often require sick leaves because of work-related burnout.

Burnout, along with other mental health problems associated with stress, has become more widespread these last few years. Work-related stress and burnout are also causing “a substantial problem worldwide with escalating costs.” The condition is usually identified by both emotional and physical exhaustion. While there is no singular definition for burnout, researchers used Christina Maslach’s definition and the Maslach Burnout Inventory in the study.

According to Maslach, burnout is a psychological syndrome that involves three factors: “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment.” She posited that employees usually experienced burnout while interacting and working with others in challenging situations.

In Sweden, exhaustion syndrome considers emotional and physical exhaustion as its major symptoms. Since 2005, exhaustion syndrome has been used to diagnose burnout in a medical context in the Scandinavian nation. While most patients diagnosed with burnout are female workers aged 18 to 49 years old, the number of male workers also affected is also increasing. Long-term sick leave is a common occurrence, especially if exhaustion syndrome has lasted for a long time and a patient is experiencing severe symptoms.

Both morbidity and costs are significant among all levels of society, such as on a personal level, in the health care system, and at companies. Companies may be facing bigger costs due to an increasing of absenteeism, sick leaves, and employee turnover while employees suffer from burnout.

For the randomized and blinded controlled trial, a total of 94 primary health care patients with different occupations were block randomized to CBT, MBCT, or TY (active control). The trial took place from September 2007 to November 2009 and it was conducted at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care, at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

The participants of the clinical trial resided in Stockholm and they were aged 18 to 65 years old. The patients were on 50 percent to 100 percent sick leave prescribed by their physicians.

They were given received group treatment for 20 weeks, at least three hours weekly, and they were tasked with completing homework for four hours every week.

The Swedish Health-Related Quality of Life Survey (SWED-QUAL) questionnaire was used to determine the HRQoL of the participants’ questionnaire involves 67 items that are categorized into 13 subscales. Every subscale had a separate index and scores from 0/worse to 100/best. The SWED-QUAL measured various aspects “of physical and emotional well-being, cognitive function, sleep, general health, and social and sexual functioning.”

The findings from the clinical trial collated data from 26 patients who took part in TY sessions (21 women) and 27 patients who participated in both the MBCT (24 women) and in the CBT (25 women). For TY, 10 subscales and seven subscales in both MBCT and CBT indicated improvements.

Group treatment with CBT, MBCT, or TY had large equal effects on HRQoL, particularly for some major components like cognitive function, emotional well-being, and sleep, among very ill patients on sick leave due of burnout. (Related: The benefits of intensive meditation last for 7 years, study shows.)

The results of the trial showed that all three group treatments can be applied in rehabilitation in various areas of the health care system to boost HRQoL. CBT, MBCT, or TY can help reduce the risk of future morbidity in employees who are on sick leave due to burnout. The researchers noted that the results of the clinical trial can help determine power calculations for future research.

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