Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Mental Strength Training Reduces Stress Hormones

The fight-or-flight stress response involves the release of stress hormones designed to help us rise to short-term challenges.  Persistent activation of the stress response, where the stress hormone cortisol is continuously released, causes numerous negative health outcomes.  Researchers examined the long-term impacts of consistent mental strength practices on stress hormone levels. 

Mental strength training was provided via the ReSource Project for 332 participants, average age 40 years, and 60% female.  Data on chronic stress was collected 4 times: pre-training, and at 3, 6, and 9 months.  Researchers measured cortisol levels in hair samples from 227 of the participants.

Cortisol levels remained stable for the control group that received no mental strength training.  Cortisol levels in all training groups gradually declined for 6 months, no matter the mental strength skills that were practiced, achieving a 25% total reduction after 6 months.  Between 6 and 9 months, cortisol levels remained stable.  Those who practiced most often had the greatest reduction in cortisol levels.

The ReSource Project mental strength practices involved 3 months of each of these Modules:

  • Presence Module
    • Skills: Attention & Bodily Awareness
    • Exercises: Mindfulness-based Meditation & Body Scan
  • Affect Module
    • Social Emotional Skills: Compassion, Gratitude, Prosocial Motivation & Dealing with Difficult Emotions
    • Exercises: Lovingkindness Meditation & the program’s novel Affect Dyad
  • Perspective Module
    • Sociocognitive Skills: Metacognition and Perspective-Taking
    • Exercises: Observing Thoughts Meditation & the program’s novel Perspective Dyad

Each Module began with a 3-day training retreat.  Participants attended weekly 2-hour group sessions and they were asked to practice the 2 exercises in the module 5 days a week for 30 minutes, using an app and online platform.

Takeaway: Regular mental strength practices can reduce stress hormone levels.  Gradual stress hormone reduction of up to 25% has been observed for 6 months, with 30 minutes of daily practice.  Mental strength practices can reduce stress load and vulnerability to stress-related diseases.

Sources

Lara Pulhmann, et al., Contemplative Mental Training Reduces Hair Glucocorticoid Levels in a Randomized Clinical Trial, Vol. 83 Iss. 8 Psychosomatic Medicine 894-905, Oct 2021, https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Fulltext/2021/10000/Contemplative_Mental_Training_Reduces_Hair.10.aspx.

ReSource Mental Training Program, https://taniasinger.de/the-resource-project/. Neuroscience News, Hair Samples Show Meditation Training Reduces Long-Term Stress, Oct. 9, 2021, https://neurosciencenews.com/medication-cortisol-stress-19443/.

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