Research focused on the effects of stress on individuals has shown that stress leads to the release of cortisol.1 While a release of cortisol can be part of the body's natural reaction to stress, long-term exposure to cortisol has many negative health outcomes, such as insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.234 In addition to these negative long-term health effects, cortisol release has also been shown to reduce some components of memory performance.5
One effective method of addressing these stress-related increases in cortisol is through use of mindfulness meditation exercises, which can reduce both base-line cortisol levels and cortisol release during stressful events.6 Meditative practices that focus on awareness within the present moment, acknowledging emotions and circumstances without judgment, and developing patience for one's self and others may all be effective.7
The 'Kids and Cortisol' project will aim to address some of the effects of high level and persistent stress among children at high risk for stress. This project sprang up originally to help with high risk populations, but quickly was understood to be helpful in other areas of stress, including hospital stays. By providing access to mindfulness meditation and other positive coping exercises, this project will give children the opportunity to decrease the negative psychological and physiological effects of acute and chronic stress in their daily lives. These stress-management strategies will translate into positive mental and physical health outcomes, as well as empowerment through successful participation in educational, social, and community networks. Our thanks to the researchers at The Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality for providing the studies cited above.
1. Hammerfald, K., C. Eberle, M. Grau, A. Kinsperger, A. Zimmermann, U. Ehlert, and J. Gaab. “Persistent effects of cognitive-behavioral stress management on cortisol responses to acute stress in health subjects – A randomized controlled trial.” Psychoneuroendrocrinology 33 (2006): 333-39.
2. Dimsdale, Joel E., Paul Mills, Thomas Patterson, Michael Ziegler, and Elaine Dillon. “Effects of Chronic Stress on Beta-Edrenergic Receptors in the Homeless.” Psychosomatic Medicine 56 (1994): 290-95.
3. Hammerfald, K., C. Eberle, M. Grau, A. Kinsperger, A. Zimmermann, U. Ehlert, and J. Gaab. “Persistent effects of cognitive-behavioral stress management on cortisol responses to acute stress in health subjects – A randomized controlled trial.” Psychoneuroendrocrinology 33 (2006): 333-39.
4. Ranjit, Nalini, Elizabeth A. Young, and George A. Kaplan. “Material hardship alters the diurnal rhythm of salivary cortisol.” International Journal of Epidemiology 34 (2005): 1138-143.
5. Newcomer, John W., Gregg Selke, Angela K. Melson, Tamara Hershey, Suzanne Craft, Katherine Richards, and Amy L. Alderson. “Decreased Memory Performance in Healthy Humans Induced by Stress-Level Cortisol Treatment.” ARCH GEN PSYCHIATRY 56 (1999): 527-33.
6. MacLean, Christopher R.K., Kenneth G. Walton, Stig R. Wenneberg, Debra K. Levitsky, Joseph P. Mandarino, Rafiq Waziri, Stephen L. Hillis, and Robert H. Schneider. “Effects of the transcendental meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: Changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice.” Psychoneuroendrocrinology 22 (1997): 277-95.
7. Carlson, Linda E., Michael Speca, Kamala D. Patel, and Eileen Goodey. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Relation to Quality of Life, Mood, Symptoms of Stress, and Immune Parameters in Breast and Prostate Cancer Outpatients.” Psychosomatic Medicine 65 (2003): 571-81.