• Article
  • November 11, 2020

Just Breathe: Resilience Technique Reduces Stress, Increases Team Cohesion

As children's hospitals experience significant increases in stress and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, one institution focused on a breathing workshop that led to less anxiety on an individual level, and a culture transformation.


At Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., leaders are bracing for a third wave during the COVID-19 pandemic. But this surge doesn't refer to virus diagnoses but rather the mental health crisis that faces clinical staff in the wake of a difficult year. "The personal costs are extremely high for the burned-out clinician," says Christiane Corriveau, M.D., critical care specialist at Children's National. "It's a direct threat to safety, quality of care and productivity."

During the 2020 Annual Leadership Conference, Corriveau and Hemant Sharma, M.D., division chief, Allergy and Immunology at Children's National, outlined their blueprint for well-being at children's hospitals. Foundational programs are the bedrock to building the other tiers in the blueprint: cultural transformation, then rapid iterative experimentation and, finally, sustainability.

To build foundational programming, Children's National introduced the SKY Breath and Meditation Workshop in 2019. It started with 27 providers as a pilot program. SKY breathing is a form of yoga breathing that teaches taking slow, medium and fast breaths in a rhythmic, cyclical way.

When Sharma and Corriveau were looking for information on the results of SKY breathing before introducing it to hospital staff, they found studies demonstrating:

  • 218% increase in deep sleep
  • 50% increase in hormones that support well-being
  • 70% decrease in recurring depression
  • 56% decrease in stress hormones

Brain wave studies showed a state of relaxed alertness for those who practiced SKY breathing.

Providers went through the three-day workshop and saw immediate results in levels of anxiety, symptoms of depression and emotional exhaustion. A follow-up 40 days after the workshop showed those improvements were persistent. During COVID-19, the technique was introduced to all providers at Children's National and nearly 250 of them have completed the virtual workshop.

Corriveau and Sharma see the success of the workshop as greater than the effect it has on the individual participant. They say the organization experienced a cultural transformation. Providers reported feelings of gratitude for Children's National, connection and cohesion with their colleagues and leaders found new levels of self-care.

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