Healthcare workers with the highest levels of resilience and emotional support are less likely to be psychologically affected by the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study finds.
Researchers at Mount Sinai Health System used Apple Watches to study how 361 clinical and nonclinical healthcare workers at seven hospitals in New York responded to stress over five months in 2020, comparing heart rate variability and participant surveys on perceived stress, resilience, emotional support, quality of life and optimism.
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Monday, found that healthcare workers with high resilience or emotional support had different automatic nervous system stress patterns than those with medium or low resilience and emotional support. The study measured workers’ ability to overcome difficulty and be less vulnerable to environmental stressors based on whether they demonstrated high levels of resilience and had support from family members, friends or others.
“Assessing the resilience and emotional support of healthcare workers may be able to help identify those at risk from ongoing stressors and may help guide healthcare institutions in allocating mental health resources for these at-risk employees,” said the study’s corresponding author Dr. Robert Hirten, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
During the pandemic, 93% of healthcare workers polled by Mental Health America said they had experienced stress in the past three months, 86% reported anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.
“The experience of this pandemic has been especially stressful for healthcare workers, and as a community we need to be able to support them, especially as the virus persists,” said Zahi Fayad, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the study’s co-author. “Our study is one of the first to document not only the toll the pandemic has taken on our healthcare workers, but also the importance of resilience and social support as specific paths toward efficiently and effectively directing support.”
The Mount Sinai academic medical system includes eight hospitals, a medical school and a network of ambulatory practices in New York and employs 7,300 primary and specialty care physicians.