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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