Southcoast Health supports COVID-stressed staff with Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation eases health worker stress
Susan Pacheco, RN, leapt at the chance to learn Transcendental Meditation (TM) last year after receiving an email announcing TM classes for Southcoast Health employees.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Professional Practice Nurse Specialist at St. Luke’s Hospital. Although not directly on the front lines of COVID-19 care, she was suffering the pain, isolation and trauma shared by many healthcare professionals fighting the pandemic. In addition, she was grieving the loss of her mother, who had died just before the pandemic started in 2020. By the time she started her first TM class in January 2021, Pacheco was battling panic attacks.
Pacheco is one of more than 100 Southcoast Health staff and providers who’ve trained in TM since the healthcare system started offering classes at no cost to employees in November 2020. Southcoast is offering the workshops in partnership with the David Lynch Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting the instruction of Transcendental Meditation worldwide.
“We were looking for something to help our staff cope with the trauma of providing care during the pandemic,” said Kris Aimone, Wellbeing and Engagement Program Manager, who along with Sarah Eby, Innovations Nurse Specialist, worked to promote TM. “And during the challenges of the past few years, many have looked for ways to foster their self-care.”
Studies have found Transcendental Meditation is effective in reducing stress, anxiety and feelings of depression, as well as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, pain and a host of other physical symptoms. It has been the subject of some 600 research studies over the past 50 years, making it the most examined form of meditation, said John Puffer, one of the Transcendental Meditation instructors working with Southcoast.
Pacheco said she noticed a difference right away. “I wasn’t as agitated. Within a week or two, I felt lighter, like the weight of the world wasn’t totally on my shoulders,” she said.
A year later, she continues to meditate 20 minutes in the morning and evening, and takes advantage of the refresher sessions, speakers and other benefits offered at no cost following the completion of the four-day training. She remains free of panic attacks.
Lori Howes, Interfaith Chaplain at Southcoast Health Visiting Nurse Association, had meditated for 25 years through her yoga practice, but found sitting still hard. She appreciates that TM doesn’t urge meditators to clear their minds, but rather teaches that the thoughts, memories and negative emotions that can emerge during meditation are part of the healing.
Howe said she is now more grounded, and better able to process the difficult feelings that come from working with hospice patients and their families, especially through the pandemic. “I love my job, but it involves going into four or five homes a day, when families are at their most vulnerable, dealing with the patient’s feelings and the families’ feelings about the end of life,” she said. “I used to come home on Friday night and just cry.”
Penny Gosson, Southcoast’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, VNA Supportive Care, took the training in January 2022 and after the first session, the insomnia she had been battling for years vanished. “Now, when I go to bed, I’m out,” she said.
Southcoast’s TM training has been supported by $45,000 in donations from the Robinson + Cole law firm, a $25,000 contribution by Southcoast Health, as well as a matching grant from the David Lynch Foundation.
New courses will be offered in June. Each course involves a 75-minute one-on-one session with the instructor and three, 90-minute group sessions of about 14participants. Aimone hopes new funding can be arranged to support additional classes.
Gosson urges her colleagues to take advantage of the program, which can help ease the intense pressure they’ve been under for the past two years. “I highly recommend Transcendental Meditation to anyone who’s stressed out,” she said. “I’m a true believer.”
To learn more about Transcendental Meditation, visit Heal the Healers Now website at https://healthehealersnow.org/.