Practicing a form of meditation and stretching can help relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and normalize stress hormone levels, according to a study of nurses.
More than 7 million adults nationwide are diagnosed with PTSD in a typical year, according to background information for the study, which is scheduled for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
PTSD patients have high levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone and unusually low levels of cortisol, both of which regulate the body’s response to stress. Although levels of cortisol typically rise in response to pressure, PTSD patients have abnormally low levels of cortisol and benefit when these levels increase. The study found cortisol levels responded favorably in subjects who participated in mind-body exercises for an eight week-period.
“Mind-body exercise offers a low-cost approach that could be used as a complement to traditional psychotherapy or drug treatments,” the study’s lead author, Sang H. Kim, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health, said in a news release. “These self-directed practices give PTSD patients control over their own treatment and have few side effects.”
The randomized controlled clinical trial studied the impact of mind-body practices in nurses, a group the authors noted is at high-risk of developing PTSD due to repeated exposure to extreme stressors. A study cohort of 28 nurses from the University of New Mexico Hospital, including 22 experiencing PTSD symptoms, was divided into two groups. One group took 60-minute mindfulness sessions twice a week in which participants performed stretching, balancing and deep breathing exercises while focusing on awareness of their body’s movements, sensations and surroundings.
The predominantly female participants underwent blood tests to measure their stress hormone levels and completed the government’s PTSD checklist for civilians. Among those who were enrolled in the mind-body course, cortisol levels in the blood rose 67% and PTSD checklist scores decreased by 41%, indicating the individuals were displaying fewer PTSD symptoms. In comparison, the control group had a nearly 4% decline in checklist scores and a 17% increase in blood cortisol levels during the same period.
“Participants in the mind-body intervention reported that not only did the mind-body exercises reduce the impact of stress on their daily lives, but they also slept better, felt calmer and were motivated to resume hobbies and other enjoyable activities they had dropped,” Kim said. “This is a promising PTSD intervention worthy of further study to determine its long-term effects.”
The article — “PTSD Symptom Reduction with Mindfulness-Based Stretching and Deep Breathing Exercise: Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Efficacy” — will appear in the July issue of JCEM.