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Huffington Post covers the latest research of SMU clinical psychologist Alicia Meuret

Huffington Post

Originally Posted: October 25, 2016

Not a morning person? There still might be a good reason to get up and at it when it comes to booking time with your therapist.

A new study found that patients actually made more progress in overcoming anxiety, fears and phobias when they went to psychotherapy in the morning versus the afternoon. In fact, a test of panic symptoms revealed that patients had nearly 30 percent more improvement after an a.m. appointment than an afternoon session.

It’s not about whether or not you’re a morning person or a night owl, study author Alicia E. Meuret, a clinical psychologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told The Huffington Post. The new data suggests morning therapy sessions are aided by higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that our bodies naturally release throughout the day.

The regular release of cortisol plays a role in ramping up metabolism and your immune system to get your body ready to go for the day, she explained. But more cortisol is released in the morning.

“There is already good evidence that learning is facilitated in the morning. There is also good evidence that cortisol facilitates learning,” she said. But this study is the first to suggest that your morning cortisol boost may also help you better face ― and deal with ― your fears and anxieties.

Morning is the best time to learn

The study included 24 patients who had previously been diagnosed with panic disorder with agoraphobia, meaning they had experienced panic attacks and avoided places or situations out of fear of having a repeat episode.

The individuals each attended weekly therapy sessions for three weeks and a fourth follow-up session two months after the initial three sessions. Some patients attended only afternoon sessions, some patients attended only morning sessions and some patients switched between the two.

Patients went through “exposure therapy” in which they confronted situations that would typically cause them to panic or be afraid. By facing a scenario that would typically cause anxiety for longer and longer periods of time, the patient learns to overcome their phobia, Meuret said. READ MORE