Special to UM News
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (July 13, 2015) – The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department will partner with University of Miami neuroscientist Amishi Jha on an innovative research study to investigate how mindfulness and relaxation training can help firefighters better cope with the high stress and challenging nature of their demanding service.
A recent study by Jha and her colleagues suggests that mindfulness training bolsters cognitive performance in pre-deployment military populations, and may be useful in other high-stress, high-performance cohorts.
“Our program aims to understand if the human attention system can be made stronger and more effective using these training programs,” said Jha, associate professor of psychology and director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the UMindfulness Initiative.
Jha, the lead researcher on the study, is collaborating with Scott Rogers, director of programs and training for the UMindfulness Initiative and of UM Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program. Their previous research found that mindfulness training helps curb mind wandering and improves attention as high-stress undergraduates near exam season. Jha will begin the new project this summer, with Rogers delivering an innovative mindfulness and relaxation training program to Miami-Dade firefighters.
The Jha-fire rescue collaboration is one phase of a larger research project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, which aims to determine if mindfulness and relaxation training might help protect individuals in high-stress, high-demand careers—an area of interest that is drawing national attention.
“These programs have been found to reduce stress, improve sleep and mood, as well as protect against depression and improve relationships,” Jha said. “Through our work with the military, we’ve also found that mindfulness- and relaxation-based brain fitness programs improves memory, attention, and situational awareness.”
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey said, “We know that even though firefighters are strong and resilient, we, too, may suffer from the high pressures and stresses of our daily work.”
Gary Gonzalez, a retired battalion chief for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, has been practicing mindfulness for nearly two years. “There is no question it would have improved my work performance, my leadership and decision-making skills, and my ability to more effectively manage the stress of the job if I had started 20 years ago,” he said. “I wish I was given the opportunity to learn this brain fitness program while I was still working.”