Meditation Could Help Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder In Military Personnel

Military service is the leading cause of PTSD among men in the U.S. John Gomez/Shutterstock
Ben Taub 13 Jan 2016, 15:18

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common condition among both active and retired military servicemen and women, with the emotional scars left by battlefield experiences generating lasting psychological disturbances that can be hard to treat. However, a recent study has revealed that transcendental meditation may have a significant role to play in helping sufferers overcome their trauma.

The condition can lead to a wide variety of symptoms, often generating distressing flashbacks, sleeping problems, and nightmares. Publishing their study in the journal Military Medicine, a team of researchers documented how PTSD often manifests itself in active-duty service members as an inability to exit the “hypervigilant state of mind” of the battlefield.

This symptom develops as a result of soldiers entering a constant state of extreme alertness while fighting for their lives during combat missions. Once they leave this environment, many are unable to simply turn off this mindset, often leading to difficulties readjusting to the world outside of the combat zone.

For this reason, doctors at the Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic have been using transcendental meditation to treat PTSD in military personnel for some time. This is a mental exercise that attempts to relax the mind, and has been shown in previous studies to generate a range of beneficial physiological effects, such as decreased heart rate and oxygen consumption.

Transcendental meditation has been shown to slow the heart rate and cause a decrease in oxygen consumption. mimagephotography/Shutterstock

To conduct the study, the authors monitored the progress of 74 of the clinic’s patients, half of whom voluntarily practiced transcendental meditation for 20 minutes twice a day in addition to taking their prescribed psychoactive medication for PTSD. The other half did not meditate, but continued to take their medication.

After one month, 83.7 percent of the meditating group had stabilized, reduced or terminated their use of medication, with only 10.9 percent increasing their dosage. In contrast, just 59.4 percent of the non-meditating group were able to halt, decrease or maintain their medication levels, while 40.5 percent increased their dosage.

Furthermore, the researchers note that after six months, those who had been practicing transcendental meditation displayed an overall decrease in psychological symptom severity, while non-meditators experienced an increase in the severity of these symptoms. The difference between the two groups in this regard was 20.5 percent at the end of the six-month period.

Since transcendental meditation has been documented to reduce stress hormones and increase activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the practice could have allowed patients to relax and depart from their continual state of vigilant agitation.

In summary, the researchers state that transcendental meditation should be considered a “viable treatment modality in military treatment facilities for reducing PTSD,” although they recognize that, due to the variable nature of the condition, identifying the optimal therapy for each individual remains a complicated task. 

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