Background: Stress management interventions may prove useful in preventing the detrimental effects of stress on health. This study assessed the effects of a stress management intervention on the psychophysiological response to stress in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Seventy-four patients with RA, who were randomly assigned to either a control group or a group that received short-term stress management training, performed a standardized psychosocial stress task (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST) 1 week after the stress management training and at a 9-week follow-up. Psychological and physical functioning, and the acute psychophysiological response to the stress test were assessed.
Results: Patients in the intervention group showed significantly lower psychological distress levels of anxiety after the training than did the controls. While there were no between-group differences in stress-induced tension levels, and autonomic (α-amylase) or endocrine (cortisol) responses to the stress test 1 week after the intervention, levels of stress-induced tension and cortisol were significantly lower in the intervention group at the 9-week follow-up. Overall, the response to the intervention was particularly evident in a subgroup of patients with a psychological risk profile.
Conclusion: A relatively short stress management intervention can improve psychological functioning and influences the psychophysiological response to stress in patients with RA, particularly those psychologically at risk. These findings might help understand how stress can affect health and the role of individual differences in stress responsiveness.
Trial registration: TrialRegister.nl NTR1193.