Do you have a science question for Dr. David Orme-Johnson? Please send your query to email@example.com. As one of the principal researchers on the Transcendental Meditation® technique worldwide, with over 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals, Dr. Orme-Johnson has presented TM research in more than 56 countries to scientific conferences, government officials, and the United Nations.
Question: The Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique has been great for reducing my stress levels. I have three questions: What is stress? How does TM get rid of stress? And what else can I do to reduce stress besides meditate?
Dr. Orme-Johnson: In the 1930s, Harvard physiologist Walter B. Cannon provided the first scientific definition of stress as the “fight-or-flight” reflex, which mobilizes the body’s energy and protective resources to face life-threatening challenges.1 This self-preserving reaction resulted in:
- Breathing and heart rate becoming faster
- Rising blood pressure
- Increase in the stress-hormone cortisol
- Muscles tensing for action
- Hands and feet becoming cold and sweaty2
Now, 86 years later, we know much more about stress. For example, there are over 30 different stress chemicals that the body can produce to deal with emergencies. They include not only cortisol but also adrenaline and noradrenaline.
First the Bad News
1. For most people, these stress chemicals, normally produced by the body to deal with stressful situations, are being produced every day, even when the situation is not life-threatening. You could be worrying about your job, finances, family, spouse, relationships, an upcoming test you have take, what someone thinks about your new haircut.
2. These stress chemicals are directly associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and illnesses ranging from the common cold and poor digestion to life-threatening heart attack, stroke, or higher risk for cancers.
Now the Good News
Science Tells Us That TM Creates the Opposite of the Stress Response
The reason the Transcendental Meditation technique is so effective in reducing stress is that it produces just the opposite physiological effects of fight-or-flight by:
- Reducing breath rate
- Decreasing heart rate and sweaty palms2
- Lowering blood pressure3
- Decreasing cortisol by 30 percent4
- Relaxing the muscles and strengthening the immune system5
TM practice also reduces the mental components of stress, decreasing anxiety,6 anger,7 and depression.8
Don’t Other Things Also Help Manage Stress?
Yes. However, one important distinction between other techniques and TM is that TM eliminates the negative effects of stress and makes us more resilient, while various other techniques only manage stress. For example, TM improves stress-related diseases such as hypertension and reduces heart attacks, strokes, and death in heart patients by 48 percent.9 It also helps us cope with stressful situations by increasing creativity, intelligence,10 integration of brain functioning, and wakefulness; and it accelerates recovery from stressors.11
There is an old adage that “The world is as we are.” If we meditate regularly we can change how we react to the world and how the world reacts to us. And for an extra boost in stress reduction, consider going on a TM® Weekend Retreat, which provides a great opportunity for some really profound R and R.
TM eliminates the negative effects of stress and makes us more resilient, while various other techniques only manage stress.
What Else, Besides TM, Has Been Shown to Help with Stress?
Forest Bathing. Japanese scientists have discovered that spending time in nature, which they call “Forest Bathing,” reduces stress.12 Researchers at Chiba University in Japan found that 40 minutes of walking in a cedar forest decreases cortisol.
Other researchers at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo discovered that the wonderful aromatic scents of the forest contain compounds called phytoncides, which have healthy effects. Walking in the forest or staying in it overnight also increases white blood cells that support the immune system and lower the risk of cancer.13 Another study found that walking in the forest or a nature park lifts the spirits and can help reduce depression and anxiety. A 20-minute walk in the woods even helped kids with ADHD concentrate better.14
Exercise. Even five minutes of regular participation in aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and improves self-esteem. Exercise, as well as acupuncture, massage therapy, and breathing deeply, can cause your body to produce endorphins, a natural painkiller, which may improve the ability to sleep and manage stress.15
The American Psychological Association also recommends the following things to help manage stress:16
Take a break from the stressor. Give yourself permission to step away from stressful situations to do something else, which create a new perspective to feel less overwhelmed.
Smile and laugh. People often hold a lot of the stress in their faces, so laughing and smiling can help relieve some of that tension and improve the situation.
Exercise, as well as acupuncture, massage therapy, and breathing deeply, can cause your body to produce endorphins, a natural painkiller, which may improve the ability to sleep and manage stress.
If you have a science question for Dr. David Orme-Johnson, please send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Cannon, W.B. The Wisdom of the Body. New York: Norton; 1939.
- Dillbeck, M.C., Orme-Johnson, D.W. “Physiological differences between Transcendental Meditation and rest.” American Psychologist. 1987;42:879–81.
- Rain forth, M.V., Schneider, R.H., Nidich, S.I., Gaylord-King, C., Salerno, J.W., Anderson, J.W. “Stress reduction programs in patients with elevated blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Current Hypertension Report. 2007;9(6):520-28.
- Jevning, R., Wilson, A.F., Davidson, J.M. “Adrenocortical activity during meditation.” Hormones and Behavior. 1978 Feb;10(1):54-60.
- Infante, J.R., Peran, F., Rayo, J.I., Serrano, J., Dominguez, M.L., Garcia, L., et al. “Levels of immune cells in Transcendental Meditation practitioners.” International Journal of Yoga. 2014;7(2):147-51.
- Orme-Johnson, D.W., Barnes, V.A. “Effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2013;20(5):330-41.
- Dillbeck, M.C., Abrams, A.I. “The application of the Transcendental Meditation program to corrections: Meta-analysis.” International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice. 1987;11(1):111-32.
- Elder, C., Nidich, S., Moriarty, F., Nidich, R. “Effect of Transcendental Meditation on employee stress, depression, and burnout: A randomized controlled study.” The Permanente Journal. 2014;18(1):19-23.
- Sifferlin, A. “The healing power of nature.” Time. 2016(July 25):25-27.
- Li, Q. “Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function.” Environmental Health Prevenitive Medicine. 2010;15(1):9-17.
- Kuo, F.E., Taylor, A.F. “A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study.” American Journal of Public Health. 2004;94(9):1580–86.
- ADDA. Physical Activity Reduces Stress. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 2016 [August 15, 2016]; Available from: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st.
- APA. “Five tips to help manage stress.” American Psychological Association. 2016[August 15]; available from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/manage-stress.aspx.
- Schneider, R.H., Grim, C.E., Rainforth, M.A., Kotchen, T.A., Nidich, S.I., Gaylord-King, C., et al. “Stress reduction in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease: Randomized controlled trial of Transcendental Meditation and health education in Blacks.” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality Outcomes. 2012;5(6):750-58.
- So, K.T., Orme-Johnson, D.W. “Three randomized experiments on the holistic longitudinal effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on cognition.” Intelligence. 2001;29(5):419-40.
- Travis, F.T., Haaga, D., Hagelin, J.S., Tanner, M., Nidich, S.I., King, C.G., et al. “Effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on brain functioning and stress reactivity in college students.” International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2009;71(2):170-76.