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Posted: August 30, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Music, Prayer Provide Unexpected Caregiver Stress Relief

As we take on more and more responsibility, or as the things we used to depend on slip away, the inevitable result is stress. As caregivers, this surely is a circumstance you can identify with.

While we can't avoid this fact, we can remember that, while unrelieved stress damages physical and mental health, properly managed stress is a key to strength and growth. No athlete would succeed without straining their muscles, any more than any great piece of literature would be written in perfect, uninterrupted calm. Like the athlete, we all need to alternate times of stress with times of relaxation.

But how do we break the pattern of unrelenting stress? Meditation is known to help, as are exercise, walks in nature and time spent with friends. The results of two studies reported recently in scientific journals and highlighted in the February 2004 issue of Spirituality & Health suggest some less obvious but quite powerful stress busters.

A Healthy Choice When Money Is Tight

Among older Americans, increased financial strain is often associated with poorer health, surveys show. Now it appears that an effective way to find relief ? aside from winning the lottery (and a lot more practical) ? is to pray for others.

Using data from a randomized national sample of 1,500 older Americans, University of Wisconsin health professor Neal Krause looked at the relationships among financial strain, physical health, and various types of prayer. He found that praying frequently for others reduced the negative impact of financial strain on health by about half, a finding that may attest to the value of prayer as a coping mechanism.

A note for those hoping to combine this solution with the lottery: Sorry, but praying for material things did not provide the same benefits. (See The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 42, No. 3.)

The Music of Relief

Caring for the sick, elderly and disabled at long-term care facilities can be a demanding, often thankless, job. The high rate of burnout and turnover at such facilities costs U.S. business nearly $8 billion a year, according to an estimate by Tripp Umbach Healthcare Consulting in Pittsburgh.

Now, a research group offers a novel solution to this problem: recreational music-making, using drums and keyboard instruments to help care workers release tension, work together, and find meaning and inspiration at their jobs.

The researchers were led by Dr. Barry Bittman, a neurologist at the Meadville Medical Center in Meadville, Pennsylvania . Workers in the experimental program, in addition to playing music, were asked to translate their moods and employment situations into musical sounds by answering questions such as, "What are you bringing to work today from your personal life, and how does it sound?" and, "What does your own personal pressure sound like, and where does it originate? Can you change it's (your) tune?"

Participants in the program showed lower levels of burnout (including emotional exhaustion and de-personalization) and relief from bad moods (including depression, anger and hostility, fatigue, and overall mood disturbance) than industry norms. Based on an independent analysis of the study, Tripp Umbach estimated that such programs could save the long-term care industry nearly $1.5 billion a year by reducing job turnover. Time ? and innovation ? will tell if they are correct.

(For the full report, see "Recreational Music-Making: A cost-effective group interdisciplinary strategy for reducing burnout and improving mood states in long-term care workers" in the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, Fall/Winter 2003, Vol.19, No. 3/4. For information about Advances, call 760-633-3910 or visit ).

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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