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Stressed Out & Anxious?

Furry Robots To The Rescue

A 20-minute break from work can reduce anxiety levels.

By John Salak –

Stress is all around us. Proof really isn’t needed for the vast majority of strung-out people fretting about this or that. But just in case some doubters exist, there’s now research that shows even taking a simple 20-minute break from work can ratchet up anxiety levels.

Health psychologists at Staffordshire University in Britain report a growing trend in the United Kingdom for workers to forego legally mandated work breaks. The university, in fact, reports that between 66% and 82% of workers don’t always take their breaks, many because of perceived peer pressure and general feelings of guilt that they are not being productive enough to warrant a break.

These feelings even extend to the growing number of remote workers sitting at home during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

“The greater importance that people appear to be placing on completing their work over the time they give themselves for breaks, or simply the sheer volume and pressure of work, may go some way to explaining this pattern of behavior,” reported Dr. Mike Oliver, the study’s lead author.

This trend, not surprisingly, is a double-edged sword. Workers feel growing anxiety about work pressures that lead them to increasingly skip breaks. There are, of course, a growing number of anxiety treatments that include everything from in-office yoga sessions to medication. They can all claim degrees of success.

Researchers at Baylor University in Texas have yet another option, thanks to a pilot study that examined the combined impact of mindfulness and hypnotherapy. It is called mindful hypnotherapy and it demands practitioners focus attention and include “mental imagery, relaxation and suggestions for symptom reduction.”

“Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves focusing attention on present moment awareness. It can help people cope with stress, but can require months of practice and training,” explained researcher Gary Elkins, Ph.D., director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor University.

He noted that combining mindfulness and hypnotherapy in a single session may deliver results that are equal to or better than traditional treatments. It also has the advantage of being more time-effective, less daunting, cheaper and easier to use when treating anxiety or depression, Elkins added.

In examining the impact of this combined approach, Baylor recruited individuals who suffered from high stress and broke them into two groups. One group was given individual one-hour weekly individual sessions that included hypnosis inductions and suggestions for greater mindfulness. They were also given self-hypnosis audio recordings with suggestions for a hypnotic induction, relaxation and greater mindfulness.

The second group was not given any intervention support.

Baylor’s results were encouraging as it found that the first group registered a “large decrease in stress and a significant increase in mindfulness.” The second group reported no difference in stress levels during that time.

Looking for something a little more earthy or tangible to relieve stress? Okay. How about furry robots? Yup. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel claims furry social robots can enhance and bolster moods and reduce pain, especially when human-to-human contact isn’t an option.

The Israeli university specifically studied the impact of using PARO, a Japanese social robot that emits seal-like sounds and moves its head and flippers in response to being spoken to and touched. It found that individuals taking a one-time, hour-long session with a PARO lowered their pain and oxytocin levels and increased happiness compared with test subjects who didn’t spend time with the furry robot.

The researchers were especially surprised to discover lower oxytocin levels in those who interacted with PARO. Typically, oxytocin (the love hormone) rises among romantic partners or mothers playing with their children. Consequently, lower oxytocin levels weren’t expected.

“These findings offer new strategies for pain management and for improving well-being, which is particularly needed at this time, when social distancing is a crucial factor in public health,” said Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek of the university’s Department of Physical Therapy.

Admittedly, not everyone may benefit from a relaxing break with a furry seal robot. But it couldn’t hurt.




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