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On-demand mindfulness workshops address pandemic stress, burnout

Fri Oct 22, 2021 at 01:05 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic brought upon many people feelings of stress and anxiety that have lingered from the early days and weeks. In February, the American Psychological Association reported 2 in 3 adults said the number of issues America faces were overwhelming to them. Caryn Wells, professor in organizational leadership in the School of Education and Human Services, is lending her expertise with mindfulness to two new on-demand Professional and Continuing Education (PACE) courses, which are designed to address stress and burnout in two heavily impacted areas--nursing and education, including students, teachers and staff. 

Managing Nurse Burnout and Stress: A Mindful Approach and Responding to Anxiety: A Mindful Program are non-credit workshops. The Managing Nurse Burnout and Stress course addresses self-compassion, helping through burn out, anxiety from trauma, handling stress and resilience and self-care. The Responding to Anxiety course is designed to provide social workers, counselors, school psychologists, teachers and mental health workers with skills and strategies to deal with the durging numbers of anxiety that are present in person, professional and academic settings. 

Wells said the workshops, which are entirely online, were developed from her in-person workshops, which have been popular locally and around the country. 

“We would hear from participants that they would really like to go deeper with the topic. It was a lot to unpack in one or two days,” said Wells. She said she designed the course based on the input from those who have taken her previous workshops and current research. She said she also took into account what her students in her classes at OU were telling her about what they were experiencing with their clients. 

“One scholar said what we are witnessing is a mass trauma. People didn’t know how far this pandemic would go and they began to put a bubble around themselves and self-isolate, which is a sign of trauma,” said Wells. 

Based on what Wells was witnessing, she decided to work with PACE to develop the online workshops. While one is geared toward nurse burnout, and the other has a focus on education and psychology, Wells said anyone interested in the idea of mindfulness could participate. 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, while acknowledging the feelings, thoughts and sensations that are occurring in that moment. 

“In mindfulness, you sit with something and watch for the insights that emerge,” said Wells. She said she applies the principles she learned from Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is regarded as a leading mindfulness expert. Once she began practicing mindfulness, Wells said it improved her overall wellbeing and that of her counseling. 

“I really learned deep listening. It helped me to really listen to what someone else was saying without projecting, interrupting or without telling my own story,” said Wells. 

For more than a decade, Wells has not only been practicing mindfulness, but teaching others to use it in their lives as well. 

Wells said it’s important to note that this workshop isn’t counseling. She said there are excellent campus resources such as the Counseling Center at the Graham Health Center

Applying workshop to real life

Wells said the nursing workshop addresses the burnout that nurses are facing since the pandemic began. 

“A nurse might hear from a co-worker, ‘I’m struggling today. I don’t know if I want to do this job anymore,’” said Wells. “One of the things I want the participants to zero in on is to create an environment filled with empathy and goodwill. One of the major mindfulness concepts is kindness. It focuses on ‘May you be safe, May you be happy, May you be healthy and May you be at peace.’ If someone says they don’t know if they want to be in the job anymore, we teach the nurses to use those ideas to tell them, ‘I’ve got your back.’”

Wells said the stress level of kids, teachers and school staff is overwhelming. She said the Responding to Anxiety workshop addresses using mindfulness to address these feelings in the workplace or in school. 

“My passion has become about growth after adversity. I see mindfulness as a way that can happen,” said Wells. 

Course Structure

The mindfulness courses were created as an on-demand program because Wells felt the audience warranted the flexible schedule. 

“It started with the nursing program. We were concerned about their shift work and busy schedules. Then, as we started thinking about people in any occupation, we realized some might be able to do work on their lunch break, while others couldn’t. It was almost impossible to find a schedule that would work for everybody. We thought the on-demand method was more participant-oriented,” said Wells. 

One of the strategic goals of Oakland University is to be engaged with the community. Wells said offering this program online opened it up to an entirely new community. 

Wells said the process of developing an online class was challenging because she relies on her audience feedback to gauge their reception of the material. 

“I really had to think about how it was being received. Every time I do an in-person workshop and when I teach an in-person class, I start with the voices in the room. I cannot do my work until I hear from those in the room. When people ask a question, I like to know who they are and what brings them there and the answers are beautiful. I wanted to replicate that experience in the online workshop,” said Wells. 

She said she thought about the material and made sure she could hear her voice in the draft. She asked herself if it sounded inviting and was connecting. Then, she had several people within OU watch the workshop and critique it. 

“I had them look at it visually and listen to the pacing. Now, I’m using student evaluations to make sure that it’s resonating with the students. So far, everyone has been so grateful and the responses are very positive,” said Wells. 

Participating in the workshops

Managing Nurse Burnout and Stress: A Mindful Approach is scheduled to be available for registration in the next several weeks. Responding to Anxiety: A Mindful Program is available now. 

Managing Nurse Burnout and Stress offers 10 CEs for current nurses. The Responding to Anxiety course will yield six SCECH or CEU credits for those in need of professional development credits. 

Wells is in the process of developing other mindfulness programs, including for educators, self-compassion, school leaders and mental health workers and special education teachers. 

For more information on Wells, her research and experience, visit the Caryn Wells’ website For more information on the workshops available through the School of Education and Human Services workshop page, visit the mindfulness programs webpage or contact PACE to sign up.