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Middle East Cancer Doctors Learn Stress Reduction
Medical Center professors are traveling to the Middle East once a year to teach stress-reduction techniques to doctors, nurses and other health care providers in the region.

“These health care providers are in support of people in cancer care, and it’s pretty easy for them to burn out,” says Aviad Haramati, professor of physiology and biophysics. “We hear a lot of stories about patients being treated in ways these providers believe is less than ideal because of a lack of resources or facilities.”

“They also need to recognize that they need to care for themselves, but that’s not always acceptable in their culture,” Haramati adds. “By us coming there from a place like Georgetown and teaching them techniques of self-care, we give them permission to say it’s OK to act this way.”

Mind-Body Medicine
Haramati began teaching mind-body medicine to the Middle Eastern providers after Aziza Shad, chief of Georgetown’s division of pediatric hematology and oncology, invited him and Nancy Harazduk, director of the university’s Mind-Body-Medicine Program, to the 2005 Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC).

The MECC, established by the ministries of health in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Cyprus and Turkey, is supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and designed to reduce the incidence of cancer in the region though collaboration and joint research.

Michael Lumpkin, also a professor of physiology and biophysics, has since helped with the training, which the team last conducted at MECC’s spring 2010 meeting.

Scientific Proof
Georgetown taught a new mind-body technique for each day of the three-day meeting – first a mediation exercise, then an imagery exercise, and finally, a movement activity that includes shaking and dancing.

“These activities cause a reduction in stress hormone secretion as well as a reduction in the sympathetic nervous system, which revs us up,” Haramati says. “So you get a shift in the nervous system input to the body favoring relaxation and reducing and anxiety and stress.”

Finding Downtime
Haramati says doing mind-body techniques for even 15 minutes brings hormone levels back to baseline.

“It’s important to recognize episodes of stress and allow those levels to come back down,” the professor explains. “And that’s what we neglect to do routinely as we bounce from meeting to meeting or e-mail to e-mail and try to manage everything on our plate. We actually have no down time and we have to create that space.”

Medical Student Stress
Georgetown’s School of Medicine runs an 11-week Mind-Body Medicine Skills course for its students in which they practice similar stress-reduction techniques.

A recent article on that topic co-authored by Haramati ran in the prestigious in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM) journal.

The paper showed that course participants managed academic stress and well-being better than non-participants.

The researchers, which also included Lumpkin, Harazduk and Hakima Amri, co-director of Georgetown’s graduate program in complementary and alternative medicine, were able to determine this through measurements of stress hormones and blood measurements.

(October 7, 2010)

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