According to a new study, veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, experienced a marked decrease in their symptoms after practicing transcendental meditation.

Published in the June 2011 issue of Military Medicine, researchers taught five combat veterans who had served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan how to meditate. The participants, diagnosed with PTSD and between the ages of 25 and 40 years old, were followed for 12 weeks and evaluated on various measures to determine the impact of meditation on their symptoms.

What is Transcendental Meditation?

Transcendental meditation is a natural relaxation method that has been demonstrated to have positive effects on overall health. It is a simple practice that entails sitting idly in a comfortable, silent setting, with eyes closed, for 20 minutes daily. The mind-body exercise establishes a deep restful state of consciousness to help reduce tension, high-blood pressure, and stress-related symptoms.

Scientists believe meditation may help anxiety by activating the prefrontal cortex of the brain and triggering long-term changes in the nervous system, as seen by the reduction in blood pressure. Other research has shown that it may activate the brain to function as a whole in response to stimuli, resulting in improved cardiovascular health and mental well-being, and in decreased hypertension. Its potential benefits continue to be a source of ongoing exploration in the treatment of various mental and physical illnesses.

Transcendental Meditation Relieves Stress and Lowers Depression

The research team measured the effectiveness of this stress-relieving technique on the veterans' PTSD symptoms using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), the Quality of Life Enjoyment, and the Satisfaction Questionnaire. The five participants showed significant improvements in all measurements, with major reductions in stress and depression reported. The veterans also indicated greater quality of life and improvements in their personal relationships.

The small pilot study indicated that transcendental meditation may be helpful in alleviating PTSD symptoms for veterans, and researchers suggested larger studies to further assess the value of this exercise on this population. The senior scientist also urged additional research to find affordable solutions to help the estimated one in seven soldiers suffering from the illness.

PTSD Shows Significant Risk to Veterans

While nearly everyone experiences varying symptoms after facing terrifying situations, people with PTSD do not recover over time and often feel increasingly worse. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, sleep problems, irritability, withdrawal, and isolation, among others. Traditional treatments involve engaging patients in varying forms of psychotherapy, with adjuvant medication sometimes prescribed for related anxiety and depression.

Soldiers are particularly vulnerable, with more than 20 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom servicemen and women returning home with PTSD. After enduring traumatic events overseas, many are profoundly affected yet often avoid help due to limited access, shame associated from the stigma of mental illness, or fear of the impact of such disclosure on future military advancement. Consequently, suicides among affected soldiers have risen to alarming rates in recent years.

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