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Researchers reduce nurse stress levels with meditation and stretches


A research trial involving nurses has discovered how meditation and stretching can help alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and return stress hormone levels to normal.

The researchers chose nurses for the study because they are regularly exposed to stressful situations and are at a high risk of suffering from PTSD. The mental health condition is brought on by a trauma and can cause those with it - more than 7 million adults nationwide - to have flashbacks and suffer anxiety, among other symptoms.

Those with PTSD have an imbalance of hormones that control how their bodies respond to stress. Their bodies produce too much corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) but abnormally low levels of cortisol.

Patients normally improve when their cortisol levels rise. The research found that these cortisol levels became higher when patients took part in an eight-week programme of mind-body exercises.

The lead author of the study, Sang Kim, of the US National Institutes of Health, said the exercises represent a low-cost method of treatment compared to drugs or psychotherapy and give patients more control of their own health. He said there were also fewer side effects.

A random, controlled trial was carried out to examine how meditation and stretching could help those with PTSD and those under stress. A total of 28 University of New Mexico Hospital nurses, 22 of which were known to be suffer from symptoms of PTSD, were split into two groups, with one set doing the exercises and the other not taking part.

Those who exercised took part in a series of hour-long mind-body sessions twice a week with stretching, balancing and meditation involving breathing exercises while concentrating on the movements of their bodies, feelings and what was around them.

All of the nurses, mostly women, were given blood tests and a PTSD checklist.

The cortisol levels of those who took part in the exercises rose by two thirds (67%) and their checklist totals were 41% lower, suggesting they were feeling fewer symptoms of PTSD.

The control group only showed a 4% drop in their checklist scores and a 17% rise in cortisol in their blood. The study has been accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) and Kim said those who took part in the mind-body sessions not only felt less stressed, but they slept better and were more motivated to do things that they used to enjoy.


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Readers' comments (49)

  • Personally, I can't recommend meditation and yoga enough. If you are into self help, then these two activities are very useful. My stress levels have been much better controlled; since using a combination of meditation and yoga. There are plenty of groups around where you can learn to do both. My health and stamina improved greatly. Try it, it works.

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  • Anonymous | 30-May-2013 1:12 pm

    thanks for your recommendation. It certainly cannot do harm as some medication can and must have some, if not many, positive benefits.

    Deriving enjoyment from it and being part of a group activity is also beneficial.

    Although a small study, it has provided interesting, useful and positive evidence.

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  • Having recently returned after a back problem only to find I was the only trained staff for 20 patients with 1 support worker who knew the ward and an agency nurse of limited use, I can only say MEDITATION BE DAMMED! I want proper support and redress.

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  • To anonymous 30-May-2013 4:13pm

    Your situation is very common to us all. I would suggest most people reading your letter; agree about the staffing level(s). I, like you have little say over our working environments. I suffer from aches and pains, fatigue and high levels of stress. I know unless i deal with them myself, they will only get worse. Meditation is the best method I know for calming my mind. Combined with yoga, I feel better, I have some control over my health. It was because of similar working conditions to yours that I joined a meditation group. I had to, the alternative might been have a nervous breakdown. Go on, try it, it really does work.

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  • Anonymous | 30-May-2013 4:40 pm

    I couldn't agree more. About a decade ago, after a bout of illness, I was "dragged" by a friend to a meditation course. I will be eternally grateful to her and my husband, who was happy to see the back of me for a weekend and paid for the course!! I have used the skills I learned there and meditated daily since.

    It doesn't magically produce ideal working conditions, but it has meant that I make better decisions about how I deal with the issues of life and work. It has made a huge difference to my health and wellbeing. I too would recommend it to anyone.

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  • tinkerbell

    a half hour of meditation is more refreshing than 8 hours of sleep.

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  • The great thing about yoga is you can do the breathing anywhere, so when you're busy it really helps just to focus on that for 3 minutes. As a DN I used to do it in the car driving between patients

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  • Wouldn't this or Qi Gong or Ti Chi, also known for their health benefits, also be good for the general public to help break less healthy habits such as over eating, smoking and excessive drinking and other substance abuse and even spending too much time sitting before screens, and also for the elderly to help them keep fit. Could these forms of exercise, and especially the physical side, be adapted for use by physios. and care homes and for those suffering from dementia? Maybe they should be offered in all homes as standard.

    they could be taught from an early age in schools so that the exercises become ingrained by adulthood which I suspect already happens in some eastern countries.

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  • tinkerbell

    What about Karate? Nice young chap knocked on my door last night asking if i wanted to join the local karate class.

    At one point he asked my age and i replied 'Erm', he said 'thirty.................?

    I said 'yes 35'. He said 'do you want me to put that'. I knew he'd rumbled me so said 'No, 55' and he said 'Really you don't look it'. Obviously I have now signed up for the classes. I said I'll try and get a few girls from work to join me.

    My husband was earwigging from the kitchen said 'don't you think with your stiff joints and just being diagnosed as postmenopausal you should be trying something a bit more gentle rather than going round whacking people?'

    I said ' i think the art of karate is trying to prevent being whacked, you know wax on, wax off, grasshopper'. He's always trying to rain on my parade.'

    I shall be looking on ebay for some white, wynciette,(however you spell wynciette) ?cotton pyjamas. Gotta have the kit.

    I think this is all going to end in tears and putting me back out but at least it will get me out of the house a bit more.

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  • Tinkerbell
    Tai-chi is the most deadly martial art in the world, once you know how to do it properly. Only takes about 60 years to become the grand master!
    For something more 'explosive' try the Israeli martial art Krav Magar (? sp.), you'll be kicking ass like Jason Bourne, but no need to be as flexible as a 12 yaer old Chinese gymnast.
    Foxy-boxing and mud wrestling get an honourable mention for being strangely hypnotic...

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