By Dr. Mercola
Upon returning from combat, many soldiers struggle to fit back into civilian life. The emotional trauma leaves many in a state of depression or suffering associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In fact, it’s estimated that 18 veterans commit suicide every day due to the ravages of PTSD. And many others find they are never quite able to recover from the emotional turmoil of war. As an example, a full 40 percent of homeless people are actually veterans!1
A sizable number of U.S. combat troops are now taking either antidepressants or antipsychotic drugs, desperate to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy combat tours. But a novel study out of Norwich University is suggesting a far more natural approach may be the answer to preventing and healing emotional wounds in troops … using transcendental meditation (TM).
Meditation Relieves Emotional Stress, Anxiety, Improves Mental Resilience in Military Troops
Norwich University, the oldest private military academy in the United States, may seem like an unlikely place for a study on meditation. But even university officials who started off skeptical are beginning to come around now that the preliminary results are in …
Among cadets practicing TM twice daily, levels of stress, anxiety and depression decreased significantly. Meanwhile, positive changes, including improvements in critical thinking, mental resilience, and behavioral coping were also noted. The idea is to arm the cadets with a simple tool to handle stress before they’re exposed to combat, although meditation has also been found beneficial for stress relief after the fact.
Said Norwich president Richard W. Schneider:2
“We have spent nearly 200 years preparing them physically to be military leaders. What we have never spent any time doing is making them emotionally prepared for battle. We are waiting until the end of the fight. Why not give it to them before they get into the fight?”
What is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental meditation is one of the most popular forms of meditation, practiced by millions of people around the world. It’s simple to perform. You choose a mantra that has meaning for you, sit quietly with your eyes closed, and repeat your mantra for a period of about 20 minutes, twice a day.
The idea is to reach a place of “restful” or “concentrated” alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance.
People meditate for a wide range of reasons. It helps to lower levels of anxiety and depression, improve symptoms of stress-related disorders, and reduce substance abuse while also having benefits for creativity, memory, academic performance and IQ.3
Meditation May Result in Lasting Changes in Mental Function
There are physical benefits to meditating, too, with research showing meditation may lower blood pressure with just three months of practice,4 while at the same time decreasing psychological distress and increasing coping ability among young adults.
Research from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) also supports the notion that meditation acts as a form of “mental exercise” that can help regulate your attention and emotions, while improving well-being. It’s been found previously that meditation prompts changes in the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with processing emotion. The new research suggests these beneficial brain changes persist even after the meditation session is over, resulting in enduring changes in mental function.5
Do You Have a Loved One Suffering from PTSD?
There is now an initiative underway, Operation Warrior Wellness (part of the David Lynch Foundation), which is bringing the transcendental meditation technique to 10,000 veterans and their families with PTSD. Those who practice the technique have experienced a 50 percent reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life after just eight weeks.6 Please do make sure to take steps to help heal these emotional wounds. Left untended, emotional trauma like the experience of battle can lead to serious health problems down the road -- anything from depression to heart attacks and cancer is possible.
Learning to address your stress is imperative both for mental and physical health, particularly if you're suffering with symptoms of PTSD. Aside from meditation, exercise is very helpful for this aspect. So is applying techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) in conjunction with other stress reduction tools. Using these techniques you can teach your body how to maintain an alert yet relaxed state, which will help you cope better with stressful situations.
Lastly, please remember that your mind and mood are intimately connected with your diet, so don't dismiss that part. While dietary modifications and supplements may not result in miraculous improvements overnight, without the proper foundation of a sound diet and exercise regimen, it can be extremely difficult to achieve mental health. Here are a few of the most important lifestyle factors that you'll want to address, whether you're trying to address depression, PTSD, or any other mental health problem:
- Animal-based Omega-3 fat: This is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies that can have a major impact on your mental health. Many people don't realize that because DHA comprises 40% of the polyunsaturated fats in your brain, as well as 50% of your neuron’s plasma membranes, without adequate levels of it, our brains (and minds) simply cannot function as designed. Also, because DHA is almost exclusively derived from animal sources (the one exception is marine algae derived DHA), and it quite difficult and time-consuming to convert vegetarian omega-3’s into DHA.
Assuming one has the genetic type or health necessary for the enzyme that does the job of conversion to function optimally, it is vitally important that we identify sources of DHA in our diet and consume it regularly. Failing that, a high-quality krill oil supplement is preferred, due to its greater bioavailability and the co-presence of the antioxidant astaxanthin, which beyond its many health benefits keeps it fresh and free from rancidity as it makes the journey, following ingestion, to the proper tissues in your body.
For further reading, Dr. Stoll is a Harvard psychiatrist and was one of the early leaders in compiling the evidence supporting the use of animal-based omega-3 fats for the treatment of depression. He wrote an excellent book that details his experience in this area called The Omega-3 Connection.
- Another vitamin deficiency that can contribute to depression is vitamin B12 deficiency, which affects about one in four people.
- Vitamin D is also important. One study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels.7
The best way to get vitamin D is through regular year-round exposure to sunshine or a safe tanning bed. Your next option, if these two superior options are not available, is to use a vitamin D supplement—just make sure to check your levels regularly to make sure you’re maintaining optimal levels.
- Another important deficiency is exercise. There’s a veritable mountain of well-done scientific research pointing to the fact that exercise is one of the most potent treatments we have for depression. Unlike drugs, it is FAR more consistently effective than placebo when done properly.
- Sound sleep is another critical issue. You can have the best diet and exercise program possible but if you aren't sleeping well your mental health can suffer. Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression.
Are You Ready to Give Meditation a Try?
At its most basic level, meditation helps you take a deliberate break from the stream of thoughts that are constantly flowing in and out of your mind. Some people use it to promote spiritual growth or find inner peace, while others use it as a powerful relaxation and stress-reduction tool.
While it’s not unusual for the most experienced meditators to have spent decades, even a lifetime, perfecting this art, you can gain benefits just from meditating in your home for 20 minutes a day.
If you’d like to give meditation a try, there are many classes and group sessions available if you want a structured group setting, but you can also try it on your own. Simply sit quietly, perhaps with some soothing music, breathe rhythmically and focus on something such as your breathing, a flower, an image, a candle, a mantra or even just being there, fully aware, in the moment. Some people prefer to close their eyes to block out visual stimulation. If you find that your mind starts to wander, direct it back to your focus point and continue from there. Ideally, set aside 15-20 minutes twice a day to practice meditation. You can also try it in shorter segments, but ultimately try to work your way up to 20 minutes.