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Stress Management

Research Spotlight

The databases often return hundreds of medical studies for a single wellness approach. This section summarizes a sampling of five studies – providing just a taste of the available research. These Spotlights were not selected because they are the most favorable or the most recent, but to provide you an introduction to the more extensive research you'll uncover searching the four databases found in the “Research” section of this site.

  • Expressive Writing Helps Chronic Worriers Perform Better on Stressful Tasks
    A study from Michigan State University (2017) revealed that for chronic worriers, writing about their feelings can help them perform better on an upcoming stressful task. Researchers measured participants' brain activity, and it represents the first neural evidence for the benefits of expressive writing – which, the researchers said, takes the edge off of brains so that people can perform tasks with a 'cooler head.'
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  • Chronic Stress Associated with Higher Levels of Obesity
    A study from University College London (2017) compared stress levels and body weight (for 2,527 men and women, over a 4-year period), and found that higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol were associated with significantly higher levels of obesity/being overweight. The study was notable for testing cortisol levels in the hair (not in the blood, saliva or urine, which vary situationally and during times of day), so better captured the impact of long-term stress levels on weight and BMI.
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  • One Week at Wellness Retreat Results in Diverse Health Improvements
    Wellness retreats use many complementary therapies in an immersive residential environment, yet there have been no published studies on the health outcomes of guests. A small, observational study (2016) from Australia’s RMIT University represents the first: measuring multiple health/wellbeing dimensions of guests at arrival, on departure, and six weeks later. Key findings: a one-week wellness retreat (including many educational, therapeutic and leisure activities, and an organic, mostly plant-based diet) resulted in substantial improvements in everything from weight to blood pressure to psychological health – and sustained at six weeks.
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  • Stress May Counteract Benefits of a Healthy Diet
    A double-blinded randomized trial from Ohio State University (2016) measured the impact of meals with high and low levels of saturated fats. Key finding: for women with low levels of stress, markers of inflammation were higher after eating a meal with high levels of saturated fats, vs. a low saturated fat meal. But for women with high stress levels, those differences disappeared: they had high inflammation levels even after the low-saturated-fat meal. Stress seemed to make the meal with healthy fats look like the one with saturated fats, and has a surprising impact on metabolism.
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  • Stress May Impact Brain and Make Healthy Food Choices Harder
    A small University of Zurich study indicated that stress can have a negative impact on self-control when it comes to healthy eating. Participants underwent a moderately stressful situation, and researchers then tested their cortisol levels, and placed them in an fMRI machine to measure brain activity. They then asked participants at intervals to choose between healthy and unhealthy foods - and those who underwent the stressful experience were 24% more likely to opt for unhealthy snacks. And the brain scans may illustrate why stress is the enemy of healthy eating: for the stressed subjects, the neurological connectivity between areas of the brain that are associated with value judgments, long-term planning and tastiness were affected.
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  • Health-Related Vacation Outcomes Depend on What Kind of Vacation is Taken
    A Medical University of Vienna study of 191 employees (2005) on the impact of vacations on health and recovery from exhaustion identified which vacation characteristics have the biggest effect on health outcomes. The findings: free time for one's self; warmer, sunnier locations; exercise and good sleep during vacation; and making new acquaintances had the most significant impact on recuperation and stress-reduction. The researchers’ conclusion: health-related vacation outcomes depend on what kind of vacation is taken.
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  • Group Mindfulness Therapy on Par with Individual Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Reducing Stress and Depression
    Because one-on-one cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is in short supply and expensive, researchers at Lund University, Sweden undertook a randomized controlled trial (2015, 215 patients) that compared the impact of eight weeks of regular CBT to mindfulness-based group therapy for patients with anxiety, stress and depression disorders. In both groups, anxiety and depression scores decreased significantly with no significant, statistical differences between the two groups.
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  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Leads to Brain Changes and Symptom Improvement for GAD subjects
    The first trial to investigate the neural mechanisms that result from a program of mindfulness based-stress reduction (MBSR), undertaken by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (2013), found that an eight-week course of MBSR not only decreased symptoms for people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Through brain imaging, the researchers identified significant changes in the fronto-limbic areas of the brain (the amygdala), crucial for the regulation of emotion and “stress response.” Researchers argued these neural changes corresponded with the reported symptom improvements.
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  • Group Program Benefited Those with Extensive Symptoms of Work-Related Stress
    An Aarhus University Hospital (Denmark) randomized trial revealed that a three-month group-based stress management program significantly affected perceived stress and positive reframing in people with extensive symptoms of work-related stress.
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