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Providing Relief and Relaxation to UC Health’s Most Isolated Patients

Jan. 13, 2021

Whether you are confined to the walls of your home or are part of the essential workforce, there has been an incredible amount of transition, uncertainty and stress that has been placed on the entire world over the past nine months due to COVID-19.

Adapting to ever-changing masking mandates, social distancing guidelines and business and school closures have increased these tensions and even created other unanticipated health-related issues, making it overwhelming and difficult for many people to navigate and cope.

Stress can have a severe negative impact on a person’s overall well-being. If not treated or managed properly, it can impact nearly every aspect of your life, from your relationships, financial situation or job, to your sleeping or eating patterns, increased use of substances, and/or worsening of chronic or mental health problems.

Addressing Patients’ Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Needs

Traditional methods to cope with stress, such as exercise (or setting aside time to unwind), eating a well-balanced meal or connecting with friends and family in a socially distant setting, may not be accessible for patients who are in the hospital, and thus are more vulnerable or at-risk of contracting COVID-19 and being socially isolated.

“Patients’ mental and emotional well-being has really suffered this year,” said Sian Cotton, PhD, director of the UC Center for Integrative Health and Wellness.

In partnership with a conventional medicine physician – like your primary care physician or condition-specific specialist – UC Health Integrative Health providers round out the treatment options with evidence-based integrative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, tai chi/yoga or mindfulness and meditation, in an effort to further reduce suffering and improve well-being.    

“By combining conventional and integrative approaches, we are bringing all elements of the mind, body and spirit to heal together,” Dr. Cotton explained. “By doing so, we’re able to improve patient outcomes and reduce suffering.”

UC Health follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) visitor restriction recommendations by limiting hospital-stay patients to one visitor per day, with the exception of patients who are receiving end-of-life care. For patients with advanced age and a chronic medical condition, the recommendation is to avoid having any visitors at all.

In early 2020, Dr. Cotton partnered with Stacy Sims, founder and director of The Well to launch a custom version of The Well’s Mindful Music Moments program, a kind of mindful music therapy to associates, patients and caregivers at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute’s multiple sclerosis infusion suite and waiting rooms. The Mindful Music Moments program is accessible via the Mindful Music Partner Portal using a smartphone, tablet or desktop, and a secure log-in.

The Well is a nonprofit organization that aims to slow the world down – even for just a few minutes a day – to help individuals re-engage and relax all senses through meditation and mindfulness techniques, like Mindful Music Moments.

“These relaxation techniques are important for anybody and everybody,” Stacy explained. “But it was COVID-19 that really sparked the need to help patients who have been unable to be visited by loved ones.”

It was the interest expressed by patients that motivated efforts across numerous departments at UC Health to develop and implement the Mindful Music Moments program for those who are impacted by COVID-19 visitor restrictions.

“Our healthcare system has been busier than ever managing the impact of the pandemic and keeping our community safe,” said Dr. Cotton. “But our extraordinary associates across numerous departments – from Information Technology & Security, Patient Safety and Patient Satisfaction – all recognized our patients’ needs for comfort and healing and quickly mobilized to create the WLNS channel.”

Mindfulness Practices Can Physically Improve and Accelerate Healing

In November 2020, the WLNS 102 channel launched at UC Medical Center. The channel is streamed through all inpatient rooms with televisions in the hospital, providing more than six hours of mindfulness-based content, which has been developed by The Well and UC Health with a number of local partners: the Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and Cincinnati Zoo.

“WLNS 102 content provides patients mindful prompts to focus on breathing, pulse or their own imagination,” Stacy said. “The channel also features gorgeous, world-class music from Cincinnati organizations, gentle movement from integrative health practitioners and even Fiona, the Cincinnati Zoo’s celebrity hippo!”

Evidence-based research supports that by focusing on and practicing mindfulness techniques, patients can regulate and relax their own nervous systems.

“We know through decades of science that you can down-regulate your nervous system to improve things like cardiovascular health, cognitive and brain health, and even overall recovery time,” Dr. Cotton explained. “It’s then, when a patient begins to experience improved sleep, improved emotion regulation, less anxiety and stress.”

These mindfulness techniques are not just for the sick and weary.

“An unsettled body, unsettles another body,” said Dr. Cotton. “There is a clear ripple effect that occurs when a person’s physiologic response to their environment is managed and maintained – and it is just as important for those around them to do the same. Emotions are contagious – as we learn to manage and regulate our own emotional responses through techniques like mindfulness, we support those around us to do the same.”    

Mindful Music Moments and other relaxation techniques are proven to help reduce the stress response – getting the body out of a fight or flight – and back to a point of balance and alignment.

The Future of WLNS 102

The future state of WLNS 102 will have the UC Center for Integrative Health and Wellness’ (CIHW) team develop content focused on the following, but not limited to:

  • Tai chi – A movement-based therapy to help open joints, promote circulation, improve balance and increase range of motion.
  • Yoga – To help build strength, soothe the mind, improve posture, flexibility and balance.
  • Disease-specific cooking in collaboration with Turner Farm’s teaching kitchen.

By working with community partners to offer mindfulness-based videos and other tips on healthy eating and moving, a full-fledged wellness network is to be developed by the CIHW in collaboration with The Well and will soon expand to West Chester Hospital and Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care.

This year has proven to the world that trauma and stress are the real deal and has impacted everyone in some way.

Integrative health therapies are evidence-based and personalized to those seeking physical and mental pain relief – many of these therapies are covered by insurance or philanthropy in order to be accessible to all members of our community. 

The expansion of Mindful Music Moments and other mindful music therapies, as well as other UC Health Integrative Health services, rely heavily on the support of community giving. In collaboration with the UC Foundation and the UC Health Foundation, community members can make gifts to help support integrative health services for the under-resourced, community education and clinical research. Click here to learn more about how to make a gift.

Special thanks to UC Health Integrative Health donors who support Mindful Music Moments: 
Kristen Wevers, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, UC Health
Dr. John and Susan Tew
Harold C. Schott Foundation