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CPTSD Cortisol/stress & Emotional Processing

Updated: Apr 10

For individuals who have experienced complex trauma, the effects of elevated cortisol levels can be particularly pronounced. Complex trauma refers to prolonged exposure to traumatic events, often occurring during childhood and involving interpersonal relationships. These experiences can lead to dysregulation of the body's stress response system, resulting in persistent elevations in cortisol levels.


In today's fast-paced world, stress seems almost inevitable. Our bodies react to stress by releasing cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. While cortisol is essential for various bodily functions, such as regulating metabolism and managing inflammation, chronically elevated levels of cortisol can lead to negative health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, weight gain, and impaired immune function.



Fortunately, there's a simple yet effective way to combat high cortisol levels, process your emotions and learn to regulate: walking and talking.


The Connection Between Complex Trauma, Cortisol Levels, and Emotional Processing:


Individuals who have experienced complex trauma often exhibit dysregulated cortisol responses due to alterations in the body's stress response system. Chronic exposure to traumatic events can lead to hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and heightened sensitivity to stressors, all of which contribute to elevated cortisol levels.


Additionally, elevated cortisol levels can interfere with emotional processing and regulation. High levels of cortisol have been associated with difficulties in recognizing and expressing emotions, as well as increased emotional reactivity and impulsivity. By reducing cortisol levels through activities such as walking, individuals with complex trauma may find it easier to engage in emotional processing and regulation.


Incorporating walking therapy with a licensed trauma therapist can offer several unique benefits, especially for individuals dealing with complex trauma.


  1. Specialized Training: Licensed trauma therapists have undergone specific training to understand the complexities of trauma and its effects on mental health. They are equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide trauma-informed care, ensuring that therapy sessions are safe, supportive, and tailored to the individual's needs.

  2. Expert Guidance: Trauma therapists can provide expert guidance and support throughout the therapeutic process. They can help individuals explore and process traumatic experiences in a structured and sensitive manner, facilitating healing and emotional growth.

  3. Safety and Boundaries: Walking therapy sessions with a licensed therapist offer a unique blend of movement and therapeutic support in an outdoor setting. Therapists ensure that boundaries are maintained and safety is prioritized, creating a secure environment for clients to explore difficult emotions and experiences.

  4. Integration of Mind and Body: Walking therapy allows for the integration of mind and body healing approaches. As individuals engage in physical activity, they may find it easier to access and express emotions that are stored in the body as a result of trauma. A licensed trauma therapist can help clients explore these connections and promote holistic healing.

  5. Enhanced Engagement: Some individuals may feel more comfortable and engaged in therapy when it takes place in a dynamic outdoor environment. Walking therapy offers a change of scenery from traditional office-based therapy settings, which can help reduce feelings of stigma and increase motivation to participate in the therapeutic process.

  6. Coping Skills Practice: During walking therapy sessions, licensed trauma therapists can teach clients practical coping skills and relaxation techniques that can be used to manage symptoms of trauma-related stress and anxiety. Clients have the opportunity to practice these skills in real-time while exploring challenging emotions and experiences.

  7. Progress Tracking: Licensed trauma therapists are skilled at tracking progress and monitoring changes in clients' symptoms and functioning over time. They can adapt therapy techniques and interventions based on individual progress and needs, ensuring that therapy remains effective and beneficial.


The Science: Understanding Cortisol:




Let's get to it, it's important to understand cortisol's role in the body. Cortisol is often referred to as the "stress hormone" because its levels rise in response to stressors, whether physical, emotional, or environmental. This hormone helps the body respond to stress by increasing glucose in the bloodstream, enhancing the brain's use of glucose, and modulating immune responses.


However, when stress becomes chronic or excessive, cortisol levels can remain elevated for prolonged periods as with complex trauma, to can lead to detrimental effects on health. Chronically high cortisol levels have been linked to anxiety, depression, heart disease, immune disorders and impaired cognitive function.


The Role of Walking in Cortisol Reduction:





Numerous studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of physical activity on cortisol regulation, with walking emerging as a particularly accessible and effective form of exercise. Here's how walking can help reduce cortisol levels:


1. Exercise-induced Stress Reduction: Exercise, including walking, triggers the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins help counteract the effects of cortisol, promoting feelings of relaxation and well-being.


2. Enhanced Sleep Quality: Regular physical activity, such as walking, has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration. Adequate sleep is crucial for cortisol regulation, as disruptions in sleep patterns can lead to increased cortisol levels. By promoting better sleep, walking indirectly helps lower cortisol levels.


3. Mind-Body Connection: Walking, particularly in natural environments, can have calming effects on the mind and body. Engaging in mindful walking practices, such as focusing on the sensations of movement and breathing, can reduce perceived stress levels and lower cortisol secretion.


4. Moderate Intensity Exercise: Walking at a moderate intensity, where you're able to maintain a conversation but still feel slightly breathless, has been found to be most effective in reducing cortisol levels. This level of exertion stimulates the body's stress response in a controlled manner, leading to beneficial adaptations over time.


5. Consistency and Routine: Establishing a regular walking routine can help maintain balanced cortisol levels over the long term. Consistency is key, as the cumulative effects of regular physical activity contribute to overall stress resilience.


Take the next step towards healing and well-being by signing up for Walk and Talk Therapy with Turning Tides Today here in Vancouver, BC. Combine the benefits of walking and therapy in a supportive outdoor environment. Learn more and sign up HERE! Step outside, and embark on a journey to lower cortisol and a happier, healthier you through the transformative power of walking and talking.

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