Making Art Reduces Stress Hormones For Everyone

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Whether you’re a stick-figure sketcher, or a Leonardo da Vinci, creating art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body, according to a new study from Drexel University.

Researchers from Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions thought that past experience in creating art might amplify the activity’s stress-reducing effects, but their study found that everyone seems to benefit equally.

Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor of creative arts therapies, said:

“It was surprising and it also wasn’t. It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting.

That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”

ART-MAKING BIOMARKERS

Biomarkers are biological indicators, like hormones, that can be used to measure conditions in the body, such as stress.

Cortisol was one such the hormone measured in the study through saliva samples. The higher a person’s cortisol level, the more stressed a person is likely to be.

For Kaimal’s study, 39 adults, ranging from 18 to 59 years old, were invited to participate in 45 minutes of art-making. Cortisol levels were taken before and after the art-making period.

Materials available to the participants included markers and paper, modeling clay and collage materials. There were no directions given and every participant could use any of the materials they chose to create any work of art they desired.

An art therapist was present during the activity to help if the participant requested any.

Of those who took part in the study, just under half reported that they had limited experience in making art.

VERY RELAXING

The researchers found that 75 percent of the participants’ cortisol levels lowered during their 45 minutes of making art. And while there was some variation in how much cortisol levels lowered, there was no correlation between past art experiences and lower levels.

Written testimonies of their experiences afterward revealed how the participants felt about the creating art.

“It was very relaxing,” one wrote. “After about five minutes, I felt less anxious. I was able to obsess less about things that I had not done or need [ed] to get done. Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective.”

However, roughly 25 percent of the participants actually registered higher levels of cortisol — though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Some amount of cortisol is essential for functioning,” Kaimal explained. “For example, our cortisol levels vary throughout the day — levels are highest in the morning because that gives us an energy boost to us going at the start of the day. It could’ve been that the art-making resulted in a state of arousal and/or engagement in the study’s participants.”

EFFECT OF ART MEDIUMS

Kaimal and her team believed, going into the study, that the type of art materials used by participants might affect cortisol levels. They thought that the less-structured mediums, using clay or drawing with markers, would result in lower cortisol levels than the structured, collaging.

That, however, wasn’t supported by the results, as no significant correlation was found.

The study did find a weak correlation between age and lower cortisol levels. Younger participants exhibited consistently lower cortisol levels after they’d created art.

Those results made Kaimal wonder about how young college students and high school students deal with the stress that comes from academia, and how creative arts can help.

“I think one reason might be that younger people are developmentally still figuring out ways to deal with stress and challenges, while older individuals – just from having lived life and being older – might have more strategies to problem-solve and manage stress more effectively,” Kaimal said.

Kaimal plans to extend the study to explore whether “creative self- expression in a therapeutic environment can help reduce stress.” In that study, other biomarkers like alpha amylase and oxytocin will also be measured to give a more comprehensive picture.

Additionally, Kaimal also plans to study how visual arts-based expression affects end-of-life patients and their caregivers.

By:  June 16, 2016

Girija Kaimal, Kendra Ray, Juan Muniz
Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making
Art Therapy, 2016; 33 (2): 74 DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832

The New Nightcap

Ahh, the nightcap. Seems to help you relax and fall asleep but research shows that alcohol actually disrupts sleep. A new review of 27 studies shows that alcohol does not improve sleep quality. According to the findings, alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker but it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. I addition, “We don’t just need sleep, we need high quality sleep” says Lorie Hood who is a human performance researcher. “REM sleep is more mentally restorative and is crucial not only to performance but to basic health, states Hood.

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Alcohol tricks people into thinking they are getting better sleep, says Scott Krakower, DO who is an addiction specialist. “People who drink alcohol often think their sleep is improved, but it is not.”

So, what’s a sleep starved gal or guy to do?

Try this blended chamomile latte for a nightcap that actually works.

It packs several ingredients that help promote a good night’s sleep. Chamomile tea is an evidence-based remedy for insomnia. Cherries provide melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel sleepy. And coconut oil and almond butter give us stable blood sugar overnight while almond butter has the added benefit of magnesium and tryptophan to promote sleepiness. Collagen and raw honey can also help us sleep through the night.

 

Ingredients:

  • Freshly brewed chamomile tea
  • Optional: add cinnamon, cloves, and star anise to the tea
  • ¼ cup frozen organic cherries
  • 1 tablespoon sprouted almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon collagen
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon raw honey

Step 1: Brew your chamomile tea. Add cinnamon, clove, and star anise to the tea mixture.

Step 2: While your tea is brewing, add the cherries. You can also buy cherry juice concentrate. Hood recommends Montmorency cherries for their higher concentrations of melatonin and what studies suggest are anti-cancer properties. Add almond butter, coconut oil and collagen to the blender.

Step 3: Once your tea has steeped for a few minutes, add it to the blender and blend.

Optional Step 4: Sprinkle your finished latte with cinnamon powder.

 

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20130118/alcohol-sleep

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-25639/the-one-tonic-i-recommend-for-amazing-sleep-an-m-d-explains.html?utm_content=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=160703&utm_source=mbg

What Causes PTSD? 

Explanations of PTSD focus primarily on the way that the mind is affected by traumatic experiences. Theorists speculate upon facing overwhelming trauma, the mind is unable to process information and feelings in a normal way. It is as if the thoughts and feelings at the time of the traumatic event take on a life of their own, later intruding into consciousness and causing distress. Pre-traumatic psychological factors (for example, low self-esteem) may make this process worse (for example, low self-esteem may be reinforced by a brutal rape). Post-traumatic reactions by others (for example, a raped woman who is viewed by family as “dirty”) and by the self (for example, physical discomfort caused by memories of the rape) may also play a role in influencing whether such symptoms persist. It is hypothesized that only after successful reprocessing of the traumatic event(s) do PTSD symptoms decrease. In addition, powerful new techniques for studying the brain, its structures and its chemicals

Source: What Causes PTSD? | Psych Central

What the New York Times gets wrong about PTSD 

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Believe it or not, both the public and policy-makers often get their ideas from the media. When those ideas are formed about something as serious and impactful as posttraumatic stress disorder, it’s important for the media to tell the story in the right way.

With that in mind, Drexel researchers examined how the country’s most influential paper, the New York Times, portrayed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the year it was first added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1980) to present day (2015).

“Mass media shape public awareness about mental health issues and affect mental illness problem recognition, management, and treatment-seeking by providing information about risk factors, symptoms, coping strategies, and treatment options,” said Jonathan Purtle, DrPH, assistant professor in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health and the study’s principle investigator. “Mass media also influence community attitudes about mental illness and educate policymakers about whether and how to address them.”

Between 1980 and 2015, 871 news articles mentioned PTSD. In theirAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry paper, Purtle and his co-authors, Katherine Lynn and Marshal Malik, pointed out three specific issues in the Times’ coverage that could have negative consequences.

“New York Times portrayals of populations affected by PTSD do not reflect the epidemiology of the disorder.”

The Drexel team found that 50.6 percent of the Times’ articles focused on military cases of PTSD, including 63.5 percent of the articles published in the last 10 years.

In actuality, Purtle’s past research showed that most PTSD cases are related to noncombat traumas in civilians. The number of civilians affected by PTSD is 13 times larger than the number of military personnel affected by the disorder.

Occurrences are also much more likely in those who survive non-combat traumas, which include sexual assault (30-80 percent of survivors develop PTSD), nonsexual assault (23-39 percent develop it), disasters (30-40 percent) and car crashes (25-33 percent), among other causes. Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have just a 20 percent occurrence of PTSD.

However, coverage like that in the Times leads the general public to believe that a PTSD diagnosis requires some military component. And 91.4 percent of all legislative proposals involving PTSD between 1989 and 2009 focused only on military populations, with 81.7 percent focusing on combat as a cause (the next highest cause was sexual assault, at 5.5 percent).

“PTSD was negatively framed in many articles.”

Self-stigma attached to PTSD has been identified as a strong barrier to seeking treatment.

As such, with fewer and fewer articles over the years mentioning treatment options (decreasing from 19.4 percent of all PTSD-focused articles in 1980-1995 to just 5.7 percent in 2005-2015), it is particularly harmful when articles focused on negative portrayals of those with PTSD.

Purtle and his researchers found that 16.6 percent of the articles were about court cases in which the defendant potentially had PTSD, while 11.5 percent of other articles talked about substance abuse.

“These negative themes could create misconceptions that people who have PTSD are dangerous and discourage employers from hiring prospective employees with the disorder,” Purtle said.

“Most themes in the New York Times PTSD articles pertained to proximal causes and consequences of the disorder.”

Most articles in the study’s 35-year focus centered on the traumatic exposure that led to PTSD, as well as the symptoms that result from the disorder. They rarely told stories of survivors and prevention.

Although nearly three quarters of articles mentioned a traumatic cause of PTSD, concepts such as risk/protective factors or prevention were barely mentioned. Risk/protective factors were only mentioned in 2.6 percent of articles and prevention was only mentioned in 2.5 percent.

Almost a third of the articles reviewed discussed some kind of symptom — nightmares (13.1 percent of the time), depression (12.3 percent) and flashbacks (11.7 percent) being most common.

“This narrow focus could inhibit awareness about PTSD resilience and recovery and constrain discourse about the social determinants of traumatic stress, which is needed to garner political support for policy interventions,” the Drexel team wrote.

What Can Be Done?

Purtle, Lynn and Malik believe that broadening the discourse on PTSD can lead to better outcomes. Some ways that that can be achieved are focusing on survivor narratives that discussing resiliency and recovery, or talking about research that doesn’t wholly focus on the military causes of the disorder.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Drexel University. The original item was written by Frank Otto. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jonathan Purtle, Katherine Lynn, Mashal Malik. ‘Calculating the Toll of Trauma’ in the Headlines: Portrayals of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the New York Times (1980–2015).. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2016; DOI: 10.1037/ort0000187

In analyzing the articles the New York Times has written about post-traumatic stress disorder over the last 35 years, researchers found some troubling trends in the influential paper’s coverage.

Source: What the New York Times gets wrong about PTSD — ScienceDaily

Size of Brain Region May Impact How Well Exposure Therapy Works for PTSD | 

New research suggests that PTSD patients with a larger region of the brain that helps distinguish between safety and threat are more likely to respond to exposure-based therapy. The study expands upon prior research that discovered having a smaller hippocampus is associated with increased risk of PTSD. In the current study, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), examined the relationship between hippocampus volume, and response to treatment in 50 participants with PTSD and 36 trauma-exposed healthy controls. The volume or size of the hippocampus was measured with magnetic resonance imaging. The participants were evaluated at baseline and after 10 weeks, during which time the PTSD group had prolonged exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that has been shown to help patients with PTSD discriminate between real and imagined trauma. The study, published online in Psychiatry Research:

Source: Size of Brain Region May Impact How Well Exposure Therapy Works for PTSD | Psych Central News