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Professor helps manage stress through mindfulness

Health care professionals practice yoga and mindfulness techniques to reduce stress from the workplace. Courtesy: Maryanna Klatt

Whether it’s homework piling up, an upcoming midterm or an interview for an internship, one thing almost all students can relate to is feeling stressed.

Maryanna Klatt describes stress as feeling like being hit by a hurricane, causing feelings of helplessness amid an onslaught of stressors.

But Klatt said she can help. As a researcher with the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, she studies how practicing mindfulness can reduce stress and therefore improve overall health.

Mindfulness is simply bringing awareness to the present moment, and it’s easy to incorporate into daily life, said Klatt, who’s also an OSU professor with the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Dance.

“I think there’s three parts to mindfulness,” Klatt said. “The first part is noticing, the second part is being flexible in how you notice stuff and the third thing is cultivating the way that you want to be in the world, but you can’t be the way you want to be in the world unless you notice ‘Oh I don’t like how I’m doing this or ooh yeah I do like how I’m doing this.’”

When mindfulness becomes a regular part of your day, Klatt said it can then influence stress levels and even physical health.

Klatt researches this mind-body connection by working with groups that are particularly susceptible to stress, such as health-care professionals.

Specifically, she leads groups through an eight-week stress reduction program called Mindfulness in Motion, which combines yoga, breathing and music to create an atmosphere of reflection.

The groups meet once a week to practice yoga and meditation, and the participants are charged with completing similar exercises on their own for the remainder of the week.

After participating in the program, health-care professionals not only reported feeling less stressed, but an enzyme found in saliva related to stress — salivary alpha-amylase — was found to have dropped within the participants, along with their health-care utilization costs.

Results like these can apply to more than just health-care professionals and can extend to college students as well, said Klatt, who offers several classes to OSU students looking to destress.

“Mindful Resilience: From the Individual to the Organization” is one of the classes offered to students where they learn how to practice mindfulness, and hear from professionals and workers about how mindfulness is applicable to the workplace.

Hannah Sacchini, a third-year student in medical dietetics, is currently enrolled in this class and has found practicing mindfulness helps her to stay focused and present throughout her day.

“I’m not stressed as much, and even when I have a paper and homework all due in like two days, I can acknowledge that I should be stressed and that I have a lot to do, but I’m not actually feeling that panic, that ‘Oh my gosh where do I even start,’” Sacchini said. “And that has made me happier, because when you’re not stressing about the future or maybe mistakes you’ve made in the past or anything like that, you’re just happy. You’re free to be.”

For students looking to experience this freedom, Klatt has some practical steps on how to reduce stress. She suggests first determining what you find stressful and becoming aware of how you respond to stress. Then she said it’s important to find out new ways to deal with stress. Simple breathing exercises, she said, are especially effective.

“I see people so stressed out, that it’s like they are missing life and it’s so sad,” Klatt said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. (Mindfulness) is available to everyone, we all have the power to access that within ourselves.”

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